Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

20 Signs of Leadership Indifference

One of my consistent observation is: “Indifference is the enemy of great leadership.” Indifferent leaders make a statement, “I don’t care” through their thoughts, words and actions.

Indifference in leadership can manifest itself in one (or many) of the following ways:

1. They are unable to decide: In difficult situations, people look for leaders to take decisions. Indifferent leaders rely too much on external validation before they decide. Sometimes, they also fall in trap on not deciding on purpose or delaying decisions.

2. They may have a vision but lack execution: Leaders are judged by just two factors: Productivity of a leader’s team (what they deliver and how qualitatively?) and by their people (are they learning, growing and becoming more valuable?). No execution = No results = No leadership.

3. They operate out of fear: They take decisions with an objective of covering all their bases to avoid blame and criticism. Fear paralyzes them and keeps them away from taking action.

4. They are not intentional about helping others: Helping others in getting stuff done starts with an intent. Leaders who try to help others without this intention, required knowledge and courage create more roadblocks than eliminating them.

5. They don’t accept what they don’t know: Indifferent leaders are unaware of where they can really add value and things they don’t know anything about. They reveal their indifference when they try hard to show that they do know.

6. Worst yet, they don’t attempt to learn: Not knowing is one thing and that is fine. We all take up higher roles when we may not be capable at some point. But we only grow when we try hard to learn quickly and be aware.

7. They don’t get into details: When leaders care about work, they also care about details that make up the work. Indifferent leaders talk broad but fail to get into details when required. They operate at a superfluous level.

8. They fail to ask: Questions reveal a leader. Indifferent leaders simply don’t ask; or if they do; they don’t ask right questions.

9. They don’t keep their promises: They say they will do something and then don’t do it. They care more about giving tall promises without worrying about keeping them. This alienates people more quickly than anything else.

10. They ignore the context: They constantly carry pride of their past accomplishments and keep harping about it. They fail to understand the current context of their work.

11. They focus on process more than people: For an indifferent leader, process is a great tool to hide behind. They will go by the books and push compliance at the cost of motivation.  

12. They don’t get results, or get them in a wrong way: When a leader operates with an indifferent attitude, their value addition is not clearly visible. Even if they do achieve results, they adopt wrong ways to get to those results.

13. They excessively use their positional power: A leader’s position only shows that they have higher visibility (and ability) to get things done. Indifferent leaders use their positions to push their priorities without empathizing with others. When you have to show that you are powerful, you are not.

14. They look at people through their position in the pecking order: They treat people differently based on their position in a top-down pyramid. They treat those who they fear differently than those who fall under them.

15. They take credit for the hard work done by someone else: Great leaders share credits generously because they care for people. Indifferent people do exactly the opposite.

16. They fail at basics of communication: They don’t listen; interrupt when others are talking. They don’t talk enough when they are required to. They come to meetings unprepared. They fail to set the context and build perspectives. Their body language shows that they don’t care. They talk too much on things that don’t really matter to others.

17. They tolerate low performance: and when they do that, they undermine those who really perform. This is the highest form of indifference that leads to lower morale and active disengagement.

18. They force change: They initiate changes often without thinking through the immediate implications of change. On top of that, they force change and expect people to adapt at very short notices. They often associate penalties for not adapting quickly.

19. They blindly push the priorities given to them by their bosses: Instead of explaining the rationale’ behind a certain decision or priority, they end up saying, “Boss wants it, so we have to do it.” They lack courage to question their bosses and then fail to command respect from their team members.

20. They keep denying reality: Denying the reality does not change it. Indifferent leaders don’t care for feedback from their peers. They don’t share feedback often. They use their self-derived versions of reality to hide from the real.

Your thoughts? Share them in comments.

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Also Read:

Great Leadership: Beware of These Nine I’s
Nine I’s and Great Leadership
Nine Roles for Great Leadership

In Review: Leadership and the Art of Struggle by Steven Snyder

When we look back at our careers and lives, what do we remember the most? When I asked this question to some of my friends and colleagues, most of them told me vivid stories about their struggles and how they dealt with challenges to came out victorious. One of the friends nailed it when he said, “It is our struggles that make our lives worth living. Where is the fun if everything is hunky dory.

We grow through our struggles. They shape us a great deal. They bring out the best within us. Yet, most people dread when they are facing struggle. They complain, curse, doubt their capabilities and worst: they quit.

I had an opportunity to read Steven Snyder’s new book titled “Leadership and the Art of Struggle” this week. In this terrific book, Steve has shared a wealth of knowledge that he gathered, specially during his association as an early leader at Microsoft. The book shares some very interesting real-life stories about leadership struggle along with ways to navigate these challenges and grow.

Here are some of the interesting snippets from the book:

“Change stands at the heart of leadership struggle. Every struggle is triggered by some type of change. Perhaps, a leader initiates change by envisioning a new direction for organization; struggle may emerge from forces that stand in opposition of that vision….. External change, whether desired or not, always carries with it seeds of opportunity and growth…..In still other cases, change comes from deep within a leader’s inner world. As the heart and the mind expand to take in new ideas, feelings, and perspectives, struggle comes from the process of clarifying newly emerging values and identity.”

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“As an art, leadership struggle cannot be reduced to a single sound bite or simple formula, but a key concept is this: the more self-aware you are, the more capable you will be of adaptively channeling your behavior.”

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The choices you make – large and small – are the most vivid expression of your leadership. They reflect who you are as a person. It’s one thing to talk about your values, but through the actions you take and choices you make, they become visible for the whole world to see.”

There are many books on leadership but a few talk about the struggle of leadership. This book does not attempt to provide a clear roadmap to navigate through these struggles. Instead, it outlines some key concepts that can help you in looking at your struggles differently, be adaptive, understand your leadership blind spots and grow through those struggles.

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Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

What We Need: Compassionate Compliance

Compliance stems from our need to ensure certainty, reduce variability and adhere to a certain structure or model. Compliance may be explicit (e.g. to a certain process model like ISO) or it may be implicit (e.g. to a certain specific belief system, way of working or ideology). Focusing on compliance means that you have a direction to follow and it should allow you to focus on the nuances of work without worrying about the basics. Compliance is good because it helps us stay creative, allows us to be a part of community and gives us a direction.

The problem stems when focus is only on compliance. A friend who is a senior leader in IT organization narrated his recent experience. In his quest to fix a nagging problem on a project that he had just taken over, he ended up forcing compliance to a certain process without taking time to understand the real root cause. People initially raised their concerns but then succumbed to the force. They complied dispassionately, morale went southwards and quality dropped. It took him a lot of effort and time to get things back on track, though not as great as it was before.

He made a mistake that I like to call as “Compliance without Compassion”.

To be compassionate is to understand that every problem has many facets and every situation has a context attached to it. That people will only follow rules if those rules really help them in adding value. That people need to be understood first. That sometimes, you have to look at purpose more than how a task is performed. That it is important to be cruel to be kind – being tough for a greater good.That effective solutions are the ones that consider all the facets of the problem –the context behind it. To be compassionate is to tune the process or ideology such  that it yields maximum value with minimum waste. To be open to new possibilities and appreciate that others may be seeing things differently. To evolve and improve.

Compliance is always an external force. Compassion stems from within – from our desire to add value without compromising on human aspect of work.

Bottom line:

We don’t need plain compliance. Compassion alone may not help. What we need is compassionate compliance.

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Photo Courtesy: Sendai Eyes’ Flickr Photostream

Leadership: 6 Pointers on Having Face Time with People

In case of my 7 year old daughter, all significant behavioral and habit changes have been a result of “face time” – time spent one to one to inspire, inform and involve her. Face time is an oasis of meaningful conversation amidst the hustle and bustle of life – a place where positive difference and lasting change happens.

This sounds simple, but in an organizational context, the hustle and bustle can be far more toxic, keeping leaders away from having face time with their people. Add to this, the complexity of distributed teams and the problem grows worse. People feel “used up”, isolated and disconnected. All they do is respond to changing priorities and task requests and the relationship between the individual and a leader (or organization) becomes purely transactional. Employees get actively disengaged and creativity stalls. (By the way, this is also true for face time with your “customers”). Face time may be enabled by technology, but the ground rules don’t change.

If you are a leader who is striving to influence positive change in your people, here are a few suggestions that may work well to increase the face time with your people (and quality of that time):

Schedule face time. If your to-do list consumes all working hours or worse yet, if you are constantly responding to external demands, you will never be able to spend quality time with your team members. One of my mentors always scheduled 75% of his work day for planned tasks and kept 25% of his time for conversations and exigencies. He considered that 25% of time as a critical success factor – and it was. If you don’t schedule active face time in your days/weeks, it will not happen.

Plan for it: To deliver positive outcomes, face time has to be planned. You can interact one-on-one or in a group. You can organize an open-forum or have a closed door meeting. It can be impromptu or scheduled. It can be in-person or via online conference.

Be clear about the purpose of having the face time: Conversations can easily take diversions if they are not done purposefully. Face time can be used to inspire others or simply inform them. It can be used to gather intelligence or to take decisions. It can be used to build consensus, to educate others or to simply assess progress. If you interact with a specific purpose, conversations become focused.

Ensure dialog: Allowing others to express themselves and listening fosters their self-esteem and increases engagement. When interacting, ask open ended questions, elicit what they “think” and what they “feel”.

Avoid distractions: I hate it when people constantly attend to their cell phones and instant messengers during conversations. It can quickly defocus others.

Watch your language: It is easy to talk about your past accomplishments. It is easy to dish out directives. It is easy to provide wider view-points (and almost everyone has them). When interacting, be conscious about your words and its impact on others. Be specific and to-the-point. Avoid judging others and refrain from drawing conclusions too soon. Focus more on “insights” and less on “data”.

The best leaders I have seen understand the importance of spending (or investing) quality time with their people. Not only did they deliver superior results but also built memorability in how they led others and helped them grow.

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Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means continuous improvement. It all sounds good on the surface, but the reality is that very few companies fully embrace kaizen. They say, “But we’re improving all the time.” That may be true, but it’s the way in which companies make improvements that matters.

In companies that truly embrace kaizen, the bulk of improvement—from surfacing problems and opportunities, to designing, testing, and implementing countermeasures (a better word than “solutions”)—are done by the people who do the work. In most organizations, however, improvements are “mandated” by supervisors, managers, and senior leaders. This organizational behavior has several key consequences:

1) The people doing the work become numb order-takers versus engaged problem solvers.

2) The improvement is often merely a “change,” not true improvement.

3) The improvement is resisted because it’s being forced on people who had no involvement in designing it.

In my book, The Outstanding Organization, I show how kaizen is a highly effective means to boost employee engagement by meeting three basic human needs: 1) The need to connect, 2) the need to be creative, and 3) the need to be in control. This last one often scares leaders; they fear they’ll lose control and anarchy will occur. But, in properly executed kaizen, the frontlines are given control within clearly defined boundaries that leadership themselves set.

There are two ways to approach kaizen. Ultimately you want improvement being designed and implemented by everyone, every day, everywhere in an organization.This transformation requires both leadership development and a disciplined problem-solving and improvement process. Kaizen events, highly structured improvement activities that are an effective shaping tool, are a second way to shift culture and begin reaping the significant benefits from achieving both high levels of employee engagement and rapid results.

In both cases, employees have ample opportunities to connect with organization purpose, a specific problem or opportunity, and each other. They use their creative potential in highly fulfilling ways. And they are given the level of control that all human beings need and deserve. In a word: they become deeply ENGAGED.

The people who do the work are the experts, not leaders nor consultants. If you want employees to engage, you must create the conditions for engagement to occur. Creating a proper kaizen culture is the way to achieve this. Start today!

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Today’s Guest Post comes from Karen Martin – author of The Outstanding Organization, which addresses the missing fundamentals that are key success factors in organizational transformation. Karen is the founder of Karen Martin & Associates and she is also the co-author of The Kaizen Event Planner: Achieving Rapid Improvement in Office, Service, and Technical Environments Guest Post   Words Matter: Why I Prefer PDSA over PDCA lean.

Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Excessive use of positional power: I was interacting with a leadership expert recently when he said, “If you have to use your position to exert your power, you are not powerful.” Being at a certain position within organization means that you have a higher visibility which needs to be extended to others. Your position is an opportunity; an obligation to make a difference in how your team performs. When you blatantly use positional power, you quickly isolate others. Disengaged team will, at the best, comply to your directives but will never be able to bring their complete creative potential on board.

Simply staying on top of information: Yes, you definitely need to know what is happening in your team. Getting status reports on various initiatives is important. However, when you excessively consume information given to you without acting on it, you fall in a trap. When team members provide you information on issues, risks and concerns, they need to be acted upon. Your are NOT in control when you know a lot of things, but when you act on it to make a positive difference. Sitting on top of information (and simply passing that information higher up in the hierarchy) is not a useful way to stay in control.

Keeping People Uninformed: The more people in your team know what your goals are, the more buy-in you will get – and hence better results. You cannot expect your team to perform if they are not informed about the vision, context, goals and progress. Team also needs your guidance on how something can be accomplished. They need you to validate their ideas. They need to know the purpose. Good leaders remain in control by clarifying the purpose relentlessly, then allowing people to execute, and provide support where needed.

Bottom line: Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” If you are a leader at any level who aspires to be in control, focus not on yourself but on them – your people. Connect with them, help them understand, guide them in their performance, eliminate their roadblocks, give them the control and keep them informed; the results may surprise you!

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If you liked this post, you will also like bite-sized ideas on quality, leadership and people in my book #QUALITYtweet. Click here to check it out.

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Managing the Real

How often do we, as professionals and managers, get sucked into the whirlwind of status reports, new-initiatives-everyday, number crunching, endless meetings and presentations? Sometimes, the best management is to do simple and obvious things more effectively.

In this context, I enjoyed reading an insightful post titled “Finding more time for real management” at Business Strategy Review, London Business School. Here is an important question raised in the post.

The classic example is people management. The principles (work autonomy, knowing what you do matters, the importance of the first-line manager) are well documented, but they are frequently ignored in practice. So what would happen if we could find a way of putting some of them into practice in a dedicated way?

In this post, authors Julian Birkinshaw and Simon Caulkin report on one experiment they did with sales and service team at the Stockholm offices of a major insurance company. In this experiment, they asked a team’s manager to free up a few hours each day (delegate more effectively and excuse herself from meetings etc.) to just do the real management. The team was not aware that they are a part of experiment, just the manager knew about it. She started spending these couple of hours everyday to work directly with her group, help them do their job better, brainstorm and improve constantly. After 3 weeks, the results were dramatically different with 5% improvement in sales, improvement in team performance and increased motivation levels.

Here is the key thought:

If you are trying to help your company to improve its management processes, it is easy to get drawn towards exciting new initiatives like crowdsourcing; but the real impact is more likely to come from doing simple and obvious things more effectively. And frontline coaching is about as simple and obvious as it gets: every company needs it, and yet most do it pretty poorly.

Read the original post for more details and findings. They are definitely worth a thought (and action).

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Agility in Process Improvement Initiatives

The pace of change is accelerating and business leaders who are responsible for improvements need keep up with the pace. While plan-do-check-act methodology has been around for long, the time it took was way longer.

For organizational improvements (and the personal ones), what do we need today? What would business expect from improvement initiatives? A few things I think:

  1. We need shorter iterations. We still need plan-do-check-act but the iterations are expected to be shorter. Pick an improvement area, create a plan, execute improvement, check the results and re-align the actions. The idea is to have a good enough plan, short execution cycle that enables you to learn and adapt faster. This is equally true for improvement we seek in our personal and professional lives.
  2. We need more retrospectives. Forums where we can take a stock of how your initiative is progressing and what can be tuned. Retrospectives are also a great way to collaborate.
  3. We need right areas to improve. Almost anything can be improved but the critical question is: Does it have a real impact? The famous 80:20 rule applies to process improvement initiative as well. 80% of improvement happens by focusing on continuous identification of 20% improvement areas. In my book #QUALITYtweet, I wrote:
  4. #QUALITYtweet The first step of your process improvement journey is to know what really needs improvement

  5. We need results to be visible. We need visible improvements in critical business functions. Bottom line impact of improvement initiative needs as much focus as its impact on organizational culture.
  6. We need collaboration. Improvements never happen in an isolated corner office. It happens when you collaborate with your team members, customers, business development folks and middle managers.

Bottom line: In an agile business environment where change is not only constant but rapid, we need agility in how we improve. We need to fail fast, learn fast and adapt quickly.

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Improvement: Show Them The Results
7 Steps For Customer Centric Process Improvement
The Secret Sauce of Process Improvement
Great Story: Improvement and Tending the Garden

In 100 Words: Epitome of Change

Each time I pass through that huge building, I think of its past glory. It was one of the first multiplexes of the country, a trend setter of the sorts. Today, it stands empty with a warning on its walls, “Under Demolition”.

I see that building as an epitome of change. How can a pioneer go down in less than 10 years? How can they fail at responding to change when their aggressive competitors were innovating in delivering superior consumer experience?

Tom Peters says, “DISTINCT or EXTINCT.” What are you doing to distinguish yourself, raise the bar and relentlessly improve?

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Never-Ending New Beginnings: Interview with Lisa Haneberg

Lisa Haneberg is a great friend who is an expert (and a lifelong student) on the craft of management. I have been following her blog and her work since last six years and she has greatly influenced my own blogging journey so far. Lisa is an expert in the areas of organization development, management, leadership, talent management, and personal and organizational success. With over 25 years of rich experience in providing departmental leadership, consulting, training and coaching solutions for manufacturing, health care, high technology, government, and nonprofit organizations, Lisa has written 13 business books and speaks on a broad range of topics of interest to leaders and managers.

Lisa recently released a new book titled “Never-Ending New Beginnings – A Manifesto on Personal Impact” which features 69 best posts from her blog Management Craft. It was my long term wish to bring Lisa’s thoughts to the readers of this blog and I grabbed this opportunity to catch up a conversation. Here is goes (emphasis added on important lessons):

[Tanmay] Lisa, I have enjoyed your blog since many years and I am so glad you have compiled a book with “best from Management Craft” posts. Tell us a little bit about your blogging journey so far and how blogging helped you evolve.

[Lisa] I started blogging in August of 2004 and I had no idea what I was doing or what great blogs looked like. I became a blog reader and a blog writer at the same time. I don’t recommend this! My learning curve was steep and I had to learn a lot of lessons. Eight years later I can say that blogging has helped me develop a unique voice and greater authenticity. When I write books, the publisher often wants a fairly formal treatment of a topic. But the blog is informal and therefore more me. So my blog helped me find the real me.

[Tanmay]  At QAspire, I write on the “human” aspect of leading others for excellence. I loved the post where you say that all of us are “beautifully flawed persons”. What according to you makes these flaws beautiful?

[Lisa] I think that flaws are beautiful when we get things done in spite of them. The leader who builds a great team even though he is shy.The manager that struggles against her defensiveness to be more inclusive. Our most interesting qualities are usually productive flaws. And I think we are beautiful when we work well with people regardless of their flaws or ours.

[Tanmay] How do you see the role of manager evolving in a knowledge-intensive world where teams are distributed across the globe?

[Lisa] I think we need to be better at showing the love. Really. As our ways of working become more physically detached, I think we need to try extra hard to create connection and build ownership. Managers need to become expert connectors and they need to learn to show warmth, care, and support through the phone, email, IM, and social networks. Not easy!  – not a set of tasks to do. We help people do their best work.

[Tanmay] How was your experience curating and editing “The ASTD Management Development Handbook”? Any lessons from that journey that you would like to share?

[Lisa] I was honored to be asked to select and work with a collection of nearly 40 authors. The best part was finding and inviting people. The toughest part was keeping them all in the loop. If I were doing it over, I would have done a better job with communication. Perhaps I need to apply my own advice from the previous question.

[Tanmay] If there was one key message from “Never-Ending New Beginnings” that you had to share with today’s manager, what would that be?

[Lisa] That we will enjoy a better career and impact more people if we constantly reinvent ourselves. Always look inside yourself first to discover the path to catalyze breakthroughs in organizations. That is why the name of the book is what it is – there is no single post with this title, but it is the central idea. Never stop reinventing.

[Tanmay] Thank you Lisa, for your thoughtful responses. Thank you also for inspiring me at various points in my blogging journey so far. I am pretty sure readers of this blog would find your blog/books useful and inspiring.

[Lisa] Tanmay – thank you so much. I have enjoyed reading your work, admire your thinking, and look forward to seeing what you do next!

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Improvement: Show Them The Results

A child develops confidence as she experiences things around her. We buy into products for which we perceive experience to be positive. We support causes that deliver positive results. In an organizational context, how can we then expect people to be totally committed to the improvement initiative at the start? People will never commit to anything that they have never experienced first hand.

As a manager, if you are trying to improve your work practices, remember this: Let your improvement initiative speak for itself through positive business results. Sell benefits of the process improvement, involve people in those initiatives, give them some control and build trust as you go. In a hurry to generate a buy-in for our shiny new initiative, we often fall in trap of excessively training and preaching people about processes. In extreme cases, improvement leaders start forcing people to comply with those methods. While people may comply dispassionately, the improvement initiative will not generate the desired/optimal results.

Here are a few practical lessons to let people experience benefits of your improvement initiative:

Clarify the need for improvement: People want to know how any improvement will resolve a real business problem. Establish the need for improvement and communicate the purpose. Alternately, also show them the consequences – the rewards for success and the pain of current situation. These two are compelling reasons for people to embrace change.

Set improvement goals: Once a reasonable buy-in for improvement exists, set goals on what needs to be achieved. Review and revise these targets as you go. Publish the progress and do not forget to be involved yourself. People judge importance of any initiative by the level of a leader’s involvement.

Involve them and set them free: Once broad goals are established, set people free. Allow them to exercise their knowledge and find out the best possible route to achieve results. Autonomy is a powerful driver of change.

Handhold and Facilitate: When people experiment, they will fail. Set up rituals and practices to provide help. Give them necessary training, facilitate them and handhold them as required. Eliminate barriers and ensure that team stays focused.

Communicate Results: Document success stories. Share them with a wider audience through internal mechanisms like blogs and wikis. Ensure that these results are talked about in employee meetings. Make those results tangible, understandable and relevant to business goals.

Goal is not 100% buy-in: Do all of this and you will still have a portion of your organization that would be skeptical about results. The goal of any improvement initiative is never to have a 100% buy-in, because it may not be possible. The idea is to have a majority buy-in and then convert skeptics into believers and doers by being persistent in the efforts.

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Also Check Out: A great collection of leadership posts and insights in May 2012 Edition of Leadership Development Carnival over at Dan McCarthy’s Great Leadership Blog.

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Training: The Change Agent

Organizations that embark on process journey initiate rigorous training programs to ensure that everyone is trained to perform activities associated with specific roles. While these initiatives start with a lot of zest, somewhere, it loses steam. I have seen training programs becoming more of a “necessary evil” over a period of time. Trainers take these trainings for granted and completely lose the sight of their objectives. They conduct trainings simply because they have a budget/training process/calendar that they have to comply with.

Imparting training is a costly affair. So many people from your organization spend those precious hours either conducting or attending training. Trainings done as a “necessary evil” is one of the biggest wastes I have seen in organizations. Effective trainings have become absolutely critical in knowledge oriented world to maintain the competitiveness and innovation.

For training to really deliver value, we need a shift in mindset. Trainings are not a just one-way affair – they are the change agents. Trainings, if done with right intent and zeal can transform the organization. Trainings are a great forum to set the expectations on behaviors you value and build the culture.

In one of the consulting companies I know, the Managing Director/Founder attended the quality induction training in the very first batch. He gave a clear message across the organization that attending the training was crucial, and that if he can attend it, no one else should be too busy not to attend it. Top management championed the cause to set the right example at the onset.

Training a mass may be a good way to drive expectations, but for training to be a change agent, we need to influence one person at a time. I know a technical leader who is very conscious about on-the-job mode of training. He believes that doing things together is the best way to teach. He uses a combination of class room training and interactive/short one on one sessions to drive learning in his team.

Bottom line: Whether you are a business leader, training manager or a trainer, ask this question before planning any training, “What change do I wish to see as a result of this training?” and your perspective would change from “imparting knowledge” to “inducing change”. Treat training as a change agent.

What We Need The Most in 2012?

Business ecosystem is rapidly changing – and as a student of personal and organizational change, I recently re-read Dr. John Kotter’s book (published in 2008) titled “A Sense of Urgency”. I have read it before and somehow felt the need to read it again. In the book, Dr. Kotter argues that single biggest reason most change efforts fail is because we fail to create high enough sense of urgency to set the stage for making challenging leap into a new direction.

Sense of urgency does not mean frantic activity, an endless list of exhausting activities or running anxiously from meeting to meeting. Activity without purpose or meaning is a waste, a false sense of urgency. As Dr. Kotter explains,

“When people have a true sense of urgency, they think that the action on critical issues is needed now, not eventually, not when when it fits easily into a schedule. Now means making real progress every single day. Critically important means challenges that are central to success or survival, winning or losing. A sense of urgency is not an attitude that I must have a project team meeting today, but that meeting must accomplish something important today.”

I would add that “critically important” in today’s world also means challenges that give us joy, happiness and make a difference to the world in whatever way.

Dr. Kotter also goes on to explain that our major issue is not complacency – but a lot of false sense of urgency. This is a point where we mistake activity with productivity. Sense of urgency, according to Dr. Kotter, is a positive and focused force because it naturally directs you to be truly alert to what’s really happening; it rarely leads to a race to deal with the trivial.

A new year is a time when most of us reflect on personal/organizational changes we seek in the coming year. My submission: when you think of a change, also think about making it happen. If you have ideas, give it a life. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Develop a discipline to execute your art regularly.That is the only way I know to achieve excellence.

Last year, I wrote about “excellence” as a worthy goal to chase. It still is. But to achieve that, we need a compelling vision of future for ourselves and our organizations accompanied with real sense of urgency – pro-activity and desire to make a difference. We need a commitment to execute.

On that note, wish you an “excellent” 2012.

Change: From Vision to Execution

Leaders establish a lofty vision for a large scale change initiative and then strategize to align the team. Sometimes, the team gets over-excited by this grand vision and get stuck. They cannot define a strategy or a plan of action that takes them closer to that grand vision.

Planning for a change is a tricky thing. Vision is broad,  actions have to be specific, team needs to remain motivated throughout and uncertainties have to be managed.

Based on personal experience, here are some of the broad strategies that helps when planning and executing a change:

  1. Shorter “plan-do” cycles: Linear planning with long list of activities is almost dead. Long linear plan can bog the team down and doesn’t help in keeping all aligned. Shorter plan-do-feedback cycles help in executing work in smaller chunks and collect data/feedback that can help in further planning.
  2. Keep the plan simple: Every change initiative will face a lot of uncertainties and will get messy at some point. When smallest of details are planned, these uncertainties will throw you out of track. Planning for change has to be simple, with key milestones and broad activities. It gives a lot of space to the team in managing uncertain situations.
  3. Involve team in planning: Simple yet very effective strategy, that ensures buy-in from team and gives them a broader roadmap to execute.
  4. Plan early and often: In long-term change initiatives, constantly planning/re-planning is important. Milestones have to be moved and activities have to be re-prioritized. Review the plan at the end of every sprint and realign team’s focus.
  5. Keep communication clear: When plans change, it is important to keep communication lines clear. Teams and stakeholders need to know the impacts and risks.

I have felt that implementing large scale/strategic changes is like walking through a forest. You know where you want to go, but the road/map to reach there is not clear. This is also true for significant personal change (like switching to a new career, starting a business etc).

The critical part: You need to be constantly on top of your plan, learn and re-align.

The fun part: The quest to find the best route and eventually, if done right, the joy of reaching there!

Late Dr. C. K. Prahalad’s Business Wisdom

Gift of thoughts is the best gift we can receive. After my talk at Ahmedabad Management Association recently, I was gifted with a book titled “Purely Prahalad – Business Wisdom from Late Dr. C. K. Prahalad’s thoughts”. This book is compiled and edited by AMA’s team.

It is a brilliant collection of useful gems. Here are 5 thoughts from the global thinker that I learned the most from:

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Continuous Change

I am not interested in “charismatic leader” approach to innovation. Companies need continuous changes – not just episodic breakthroughs.

Don’t Wait Too Long

Finding the motivation to affect change is very difficult when the existing business model seem to be working well. But the question to ask is, “Will their zone of comfort force them to wait too long before they make a transition?”

Next v/s Best

Best practices lead to agreement on mediocrity. I do not have much interest in best practices. Because all of us benchmark each other, we gravitate towards mediocrity in a hurry. What we really need is to ask what is the next practice, so that we can become the benchmark companies, benchmark institutions around the world.

Creating an ‘Unlearning’ Organization

Creating a ‘learning organization’ is only half the solution. Just as important is creating an ‘unlearning organization’. To create the future, a company must unlearn at least some of its past. We’re all familiar with ‘learning curve’, but what about the ‘forgetting curve’ – the rate at which a company can unlearn those habits that hinder future success?

Helping Others

If you are honest about helping others rather than showing how smart you are, things are very easy.

8 Pointers On Balancing Improvement and Efficiency

When leaders undertake process improvement/change initiative, they walk on a tight rope.

On one hand, they have to improve the processes to deliver positive business outcomes. On the other, they have to ensure that improvement/change initiative does not slow down the current work and bring the overall efficiencies down.

Both are crucial and striking the right balance between improvement and business efficiency, between standardization and evolution is a big leadership challenge. Based on my recent experiences in implementing large scale changes, here are a few lessons I would like to share:

  • Avoid Big Bang implementation of major changes. When it comes to processes and changing habits of people, there are no direct cut-overs. People (and culture) need time to change.
  • Improve Incrementally by implementing high priority (and high value) changes first. When people start seeing value in those changes, implement a few more.
  • Have a Strong Purpose behind each change being implemented. People will not subscribe to change unless the purpose of the improvement initiative is clear. People want to know how improvements will help them do a better job.
  • Keep Communication Tight during the change implementation. On going trainings, one to one facilitations, interactive audio/video based training go a long way in ensuring that people are aligned.
  • Focus on “Value Delivered” when looking at a change/improvement. There is a lot to improve, but focus on improvements that have direct impact in value delivered to the organization/customers.
  • Understand People because effective change implementation is not possible without understanding how people operate. With this understanding, managing resistance becomes a little easier.
  • Innovate In Process itself, without getting fixated on best practices. The “wow” customer experiences delivered are always a combination of remarkable people and innovative (yet simple) processes that makes customer’s life easier.
  • Look For “Exceptions” because they are the opportunities for improving and simplifying. When people don’t follow a process consistently, it may be a process problem.

Additionally, here are 5 things a leader should avoid when implementing any significant change. Read more about insights on managing process improvements and change.

Join in the conversation:

What have been your lessons in implementing change? What best practices would you like to share when it comes to balancing improvement and business efficiency?

Managing Process Changes and Disruption

Two things we know about change:

  • Resistance is our natural reaction to any change that disrupts our current way of working.
  • Things only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of remaining in current state.

Ability to foresee, plan and implement change for better alignment to the market and generate better outcomes is a huge competitive advantage.

Over at Harvard Business Review Blogs, I read the post (and the comments) “Overcoming The Disruption of Process Change” by Brad Power with great interest. Any one who is trying to improve the processes by implementing meaningful changes must read the post. Here’s what I learned.

Involving people in process innovation is critical to ensure that improvements are driven by practitioners and it generates better buy-in as well. However, leaders have to allow people to experiment, fail and learn. In his post, Brad says:

To overcome objections to the expense and riskiness of process innovation, it should be advanced through fast, inexpensive, and flexible experiments. The focus shouldn’t be on permission for resources but rather permission to behave differently. Failure and iterative learning should be built into the improvement process.

I wrote earlier about treating resistance and criticism as an opportunity to learn. Every change is an opportunity to learn as well. Consider the following:

Toyota selects its people for their openness to learning, and then develops their work habits through practice after they are hired. All managers are expected to be involved in process improvement and adaptation. Problems are welcomed as ways to help understand why things go wrong.

Finally, every change must have a significant positive impact on the organization – be it higher customer satisfaction or improved productivity. The post reinforces:

Leaders need to demonstrate that they value high customer satisfaction. The gap between current performance and what is needed to win must be always visible to everyone.

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Join in the conversation: What other ideas have worked for you when implementing significant changes?

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Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

Ambiguity: Embrace It, But Don’t Be a Source

When we run a business or execute a project, we set clear goals of what we want to achieve, create detailed plans, devise strategies and set up milestones. But leadership, just like life, is ambiguous and paradoxical.

People default, conflicts happen, clients change their requirements, demand/supply suddenly flips, things just don’t work as expected, delays happen, difficult questions arise and contrasting view points come up. Amidst all these uncertainties, do leaders give up? Certainly no. Leonardo da Vinci said,

“That painter who has no doubts will achieve little.”

The rate of change is so rapid these days, that ambiguity is ubiquitous, and certainty, an illusion. Hence, ability to thrive on uncertainty is crucial for our growth as leaders and professionals.

It is amidst uncertainty and ambiguity that we tend to be at our creative best, doing a lot of intuitive thinking and coming up with solutions as we go. Fresh perspectives emerge and new insights unfold as we work our way through the foggy road ahead.

When you reach the destination you set out for, working through all the ambiguities, the satisfaction level is also much higher. Not only because you achieved the goal, but in the process, you learned a great deal about people, situations, paradoxes and about managing uncertainty. Your work shines through.

Having said that, you should never be a source of ambiguity as a leader. Your job as a leader is to provide clarity to your team, while managing the external uncertainties.

So, a few questions for all of us as we start a new week:

  • Assess your inclination towards certainty. Do you get frustrated when faced with an uncertainty or paradox? Does a lot of certainty give you a sense of comfort?
  • If yes, what behaviors could you change to be more comfortable with external uncertainties, work through it and get more creative?

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The Quest of Better Outcomes: Hierarchy And Process

In quest of better outcomes (efficiency, results, productivity, improvements etc.), a lot of companies focus on restructuring their organization structure (hierarchy). Periodically, they overhaul their structure, add new positions and assign new/diverse responsibilities to people.  Tuning hierarchy and structure of the organization for better outcomes is just one part. These structural changes won’t produce the desired outcomes if the flow (process) aspect is not addressed.

Why? Because, work flows horizontally. Between teams. Between members of the teams. Between different departments. Work flows from one team member to the other. The intent, intensity and diligence with which they execute that piece of work, and how well they are equipped to execute largely determines quality of the outcomes. In my view, a lot of quality related problems can be traced to gaps in this lateral movement of work.

You need best people for sure. But to enable them for better performance, to make them effective, a system needs to be created. A system comprising of interconnected processes that act as a tool people use to execute their work. I have said this before – any organization that aims to deliver high performance consistently cannot ignore the power of process.

So, even when you frequently overhaul the structure of your organization, do not forget to think about the process aspect. How would work flow? Who will do what? How will activities be performed?

Hierarchical overhauls are no silver bullets. Long term improvements (and their benefits) can be realized if you are ready to invest time in creating systems that helps you sustain, scale, deliver and create a better future for your organization, yourself and your people.

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Also download 25 Things Managers and Leaders Should Never Do [PDF]

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Check out the latest edition of “Carnival of HR” at John Hunter’s Curious Cat Management Improvement blog. The edition features my post “Setting Expectations on Behaviors You Value: 5 Pointers” along with other excellent thoughts on HR, OD and Leadership.