We are likely to find as many definitions for leadership as there are leaders. I recently downloaded an excellent app titled “Leadership Development” from Apple’s App Store and this definition of leadership was presented in one of the many videos:
“Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.”
While the expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” may be true for some, true leaders recognize and understand the value of making the horse thirsty enough to want to drink on his own.
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If only I knew then what I know now, things would be different and, as the expression goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”. The problem? Very few leaders and teams take advantage of “hindsight” to discover the valuable lessons that can be learned from both successes and failures.
Following an event, it is important to take the time to reflect and understand what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and what can be improved – even if the event was a success. Of course, the implication here is that a plan exists.
To facilitate this process, I highly encourage using a tool that I have come to know as “After Action Reviews” or AAR‘s. One of the primary aspects of the review is to identify what did or didn’t work as opportunities to improve.
Problem Solving to Improve
The word “improve” implies that we are attempting to achieve something already envisioned to be better. When reviewing things gone right and things gone wrong”, it is best to phrase statements that are aligned accordingly. Even if someone did something in error, their intentions may have been in focus and aligned with the overall goal.
For example, if someone says something out of turn or makes a commitment beyond the scope of their immediate authority during a meeting with a customer or other colleagues, the after action review may suggest a better communication strategy: who is leading the meeting and who has the authority for making commitments.
The Blame Game
I recall a situation several years ago where a customer was having problems installing a part. After meeting with the customer we returned to the plant to investigate further – to find out how and why the part was not only shipped but produced in the first place.
My engineer returned with his findings that began with, “The operator didn’t check the parts properly.” I asked him to dig deeper to determine the real root cause and suggested using the 5 Why approach for problem solving. Typically, the root cause can be systemic, or process, or both.
We met with the operator and determined that the instructions for checking the part were unclear and the checking fixture was void of any means of inspection for the area of concern. Essentially, we determined that no one could adequately assess the quality of the part unless they were “in the know”.
The operator was very concerned about his job as people in years past were dismissed for producing “bad” parts. It was my intent to demonstrate that we are first concerned with providing the tools (system or process) that, if followed, would ensure a successful outcome.
It is important to note that this approach reinforces the need for – and the requirement to follow – standard operating procedures or standardized work. The operator in this case was assured that following instructions was not cause for discipline.
Our “best practice” standard operating procedure required everyone to phrase problems, mistakes, errors, or concerns in such a way that we simply state the undesirable condition or behavior.
I never accepted a corrective action where the problem statement, root cause, or investigation included the term: “Operator Error”. This does not mean that people can’t be held accountable for “things gone wrong.” However, it is more important to understand the aspects leading up to the failure, to dig deeper, and to find out why to avoid repeating mistakes by making improvements.
People Are The Solution
When people fear repercussions, their ability to participate in real problem solving is significantly hindered. Taking people out of the problem statement will keep them in the problem solving process to find an effective solution. It is important to note that people are accountable for their actions, however, our intentions are to identify and present improvements objectively.
As leaders, we are continually challenged to surround ourselves with the best. This includes efforts to improve our hiring and orientation process to ensure every candidate we bring into the organization has the aptitude and skills we require. Furthermore, we are challenged to provide our teams with the proper tools and training that ensure their greatest chance of success.
Opportunities and solutions are as unique as the talents, skills, and abilities that our team members bring to the table. This is one of the reasons we believe there is always a better way and more than one solution. We encourage the use of After Action Reviews (AAR’s) to seize every opportunity to be the best that we can be for our customers, our stakeholders, and for ourselves.
We are often encouraged to look beyond our own business models to expand our horizons or to simply gain a different perspective. Music is one of my personal areas of interest in the outside world and I have learned to appreciate and value the many genres of music that exist today. As a lead guitar player for a number of bands over the years and a little recording in my studio, I can only imagine the level of commitment required to perform and record professionally.
I was inspired to write this post after watching Michael Jackson’s DVD, “This is it“. It is impressive to see how everyone is engaged and intimately involved with every nuance of the performance – from the performers themselves to the people working behind the scenes. Even more amazing was Michael Jackson’s recall of every note and step of the choreography. Michael provided extensive direction and leadership to assure a world-class performance could be delivered.
What does this have to do with Lean?
At its core, playing music can simply be described as playing the right notes at the right time. In many respects, music is analogous to many of our manufacturing processes. Music has a known process rate (beats per minute). The standardized work or method is the music score that shows what notes to play and when to play them. Similarly, the choreography serves as standardized work to document each and every step or movement for each performer. It can be very obvious (and painful) when someone plays the wrong note, sounds a note at the wrong time, or mis-steps.
Knowing that “This is it” was produced from film during the development of the production also exemplifies how video can be used to not only capture the moment but to improve the process along the way. The film provides the opportunity to review the performance objectively even if you happen to be in it. You will note that people are much more engaged and become “self-aware” in a radically different way.
Communication + Practice makes Perfect
It is also readily apparent that many hours of rehearsal are required to produce a world-class performance. Imagine working for days, weeks, months, or even years to produce a two-hour show for all of the world to see. How much can one person do to refine and perfect the performance? How much effort would you be willing to expend knowing that literally billions of people may someday be watching you!
As professionals, individual performers are expected to know their respective roles thoroughly. They are paid for their expertise and ability to perform with high expectations and demanding circumstances. The purpose of the rehearsal is not to necessarily practice your part as an individual, but rather to exercise your expertise as part of the team. Each performer must learn their cues from other performers and determine how they relate and fit in to the overall production process. Rehearsals provide the basis of the team’s communication strategy to assure everyone is on the same page all the time, every time.
Finally, “This is it” demonstrates the importance of training the whole team. Although individual training may be required, eventually the team must be brought together in its entirety. A downfall of many business training programs is that often only a select few people from various departments are permitted to attend with the expectation that they will bring what they learned “back to the team”. One of the most overlooked elements of training is the communication and coordination of activities between team members. Group breakout sessions attempt to improve interaction among team members, but this can’t replace the reality of working with the team on home turf. It seems that some companies expect trained professionals to intuitively know how to communicate and interact with each other. Nothing could be further from the truth if you are looking to develop a high performance team.
Imagine what it would be like if we rehearsed our process and material changes with the same persistence and raw determination that performers and athletes in the entertainment and sports world exhibit. Overall Equipment Efficiency and more specifically Availability may improve beyond our expectations. Imagine applying the same degree of standardization to tasks that we perform everyday! As we strive for excellence, our tolerance for anything less diminishes as well.