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Tom Devane is a consultant, author, and co-author of provocative bestselling books on achieving extraordinary results using methods that systematically engage people in organizations and communities.
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    TOM'S BOOKS

     

    The Change Handbook

    Over 60 methods that engage groups quickly and produce extraordinary results.

     

     

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    Berrett-Koehler

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    Integrating Lean Six Sigma and High Performance Organizations

    A leader's guide to blending technical and people aspects of performance improvement.

    Amazon

    Barnes & Noble

    Wiley & Sons

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    Archives (by topic and month)

    Sunday
    May222011

    An Uncommon, Sweat-Related Option for Improving Team Performance

    I’m a big fan of improving team performance.  In fact, I’ve spent many years researching and implementing principles that can bring team performance up several notches.  But in a recent interview I encountered an uncommon, though very effective way of improving the outcomes associated with teams.

    I was interviewing Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist and author of the best-selling book Brain Rules, and also a contributor to the Harvard Business Review.  Dr. Medina had an interesting input for a project I’m doing on collecting best practices for high-performance teams.

    He told me about a powerful, yet often underutilized way to improve the output of teams and groups. 

    Any guesses on what that uncommon practice might be?

     

    Okay, here it is.  It's exercise.  That's right, exercise.  It's one of those high-leverage actions where you can put in just a little, and get out a whole lot.

    In addition to Dr. Medina, plenty of other contemporary scientific researchers support this.  Medical doctors and psychiatrists like Dr. John Ratey in Boston have dedicated years of research to the topic and also written extensively on the topic (see his book Spark).   And, by the way, both these gentlemen have spoken at Google on these and other brain enhancement topics, and you can see their talks if you Google their name and Authors@Google.

    It seems if you spend about 30 minutes a day, at least four times a week doing some form of exercise that gets your heart rate up to a good level, you're doing not just your body some good, but also your brain.  And many experts say the benefits are even greater if two of these are really intense workouts.

    So a great tip would be to have your team members exercise each day to stimulate their creative juices.  It would be great if you could have them exercise together so that while they’re exercising, and immediately after, they might brainstorm some ideas on how to resolve a thorny problem your organization is dealing with.

    Quick caveat: I'm no doctor.  Before you embark on any physical activity, or you recommend that your teammates do, it’s important that a physician be consulted to determine the appropriateness of such an option.

    I can tell you from personal experience that in weeks where I don't get a chance to work out at least four times a week, I'm more tired, and it takes me longer to come up with good ideas.  Once you check in with a physician I'd recommend you start your exercise program immediately to get all the physical and mental benefits you can.  This can definitely put you one step ahead in your search for a great job, and that goal of accelerating your way down your career path.  More blogs on this topic will follow. 

    I invite comments from anyone who has had any extreme positive, or negative experiences with exercise and its impact on brain power.

     

    Sunday
    May222011

    Meeting the challenge of the changing healthcare landscape


    In May I attended and also presented at the WCBF Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare Summit in New Orleans.  It was a phenomenal healthcare industry event, and it’s always great to get back to New Orleans.  There’s a huge mandate for change in healthcare delivery these days.  Dramatically declining reimbursements and rising costs have contributed to creating an effective “burning platform for change.”  What was particularly refreshing to see was that most of the premier healthcare leaders/presenters were focused on the critical combination of addressing BOTH the technical aspects and people aspects of Lean Six Sigma. 

    As someone who has consulted in Lean Six Sigma and the wider umbrella of quality improvement for the past 30 years, I’ve unfortunately seen far too many leaders in manufacturing and services sectors focus heavily on quality tools, training, and quick-hit projects.  The problem is that these focal points do little to achieve the higher goals -- and huge benefits -- of quality initiatives, such as having everyone in the organization continually seeking ways to improve product/service quality, eliminate waste, and reduce costs.

    One line worker in a chemicals plant that I visited boasted that he had been trained in, and mastered 30 quality improvement tools.  I remarked that this was impressive.  I was curious if workers used a wide variety of tools, or fell back on just a few favorites.  So I  asked how many he had applied over the past two months.  He bowed his head slightly, and in an embarrassed tone said, “Well, actually, none.  Our floor supervisors aren’t big fans of taking time out of out the workday to do problem-solving.” 

    So here’s an unfortunate case of an organization that got stuck in the “tool” stage of process improvement, and the quality initiative didn’t even reap any quality or financial benefits from going after quick hit, low-hanging fruit projects.  Unfortunately, as illogical as it seems, this phenomenon occurred in quite a few quality implementations.  Why?  One reason is that the tool focus is very tangible, and it’s easy to declare early victories if your metric is the number of people trained in certain tools.

    So to all those healthcare organizations out there who are addressing the technical, leadership, and people aspects of Lean Six Sigma, congratulations!  And to those who focusing only on tools, training, and quick-hit projects, you may want to take a broader look at your overall plan.

    One way that leaders are creating conditions for people to accept, and even enthusiastically embrace Lean Six Sigma is by finding ways to engage people in problem-solving and implementation planning for things that affect their local area.  Since people tend to support what they help create, this approach not only creates a better, more widespread understanding of the solution, it also creates energy for its implementation.

    And a final note on engagement.  At the conference several of the speakers estimated that only a small percentage – about 5 to 15% -- of the gains needed to respond to healthcare’s challenges would be addressed by Lean Six Sigma.  The rest would need to come from innovations in healthcare delivery.  The great news is that by focusing on leadership skills, specifically in the area setting up employee engagement opportunities, it’s possible to do a better job of implementing Lean Six Sigma AND transforming the healthcare delivery model to be prepared for the massive upcoming reimbursement cuts.  For leaders who’d like some specific recommendations in setting up and running employee engagement opportunities, those will be available in upcoming blogs.

    Sunday
    May222011

    Link Top-Down and Bottom-Up Change to Get Audacious Results

    For years a debate has raged in leadership circles about whether a top-down or bottom-up change approach is better.  It’s a crazy debate.  In today’s environment of scarce resources and rapidly changing competitive markets, it’s not a question which approach.  It’s a question of how to seamlessly integrate both to get quick results that people are committed to, and that are sustainable. 

    The situation

    Major changes – such as the implementation of a new strategy, deployment of contemporary quality improvement techniques like Lean Six Sigma, or implementation of a new technology – typically originate at the top level of the organization, because they affect and benefit the entire organization.  And they require some significant bucks to pull off.  As such, they’re often implemented as “top-down” efforts (typically characterized by executive direction-setting and communication of the change, with appropriate checkpoints and monitoring for compliance to the new change).  But usually such major changes require people to change their behavior.  And often proposed changes are so significant that they require people to alter their view of their very identity of who they are at work. 

    Unfortunately many of these efforts don’t have a specific component of their change strategy that addresses the “people aspect” of the change.  And simply forcing people to accept new practices may lead to temporary compliance, which later tapers off and ultimately results in backsliding to previous behaviors and lackluster results.  And alas, at great cost, because this process isn’t cheap. 

    At the other end of the spectrum, someone locally – who is not a member of the executive suite -- introduces an innovation and people embrace it.   It begins to get legs at the grass-roots level, and the innovation begins to spread.  While this bottom-up approach has the benefits of being propelled by local energy having great acceptance, it has its own set of drawbacks.   Drawbacks include an often longer wait time for the innovation to spread, and a potential that the changes will not be 100% aligned with the organization’s strategy since lower level people developed them.  The result: top management pulls the plug because they don’t want people spending precious organization time on activities that don’t support the strategy.  (And, often they’re a bit perturbed that such activities have gone on for awhile without them knowing about them.)

    So what’s a leader to do?

    The best idea is to combine the two approaches in a way that makes sense for the organization for a specific situation.   For example, if the FDA is knocking on the door of a pharmaceutical manufacturer and issuing a warning letter threatening a shut them down because of shoddy manufacturing practices, it’s not the time for a long, drawn out employee think session on how to address the cited problem areas.  Management and a few technical experts are all that are required immediately to address the situation quickly in response to FDA concerns and to avoid a plant shut-down.  

    On the other hand, if an enterprise-wide initiative to improve quality or implement a new computer system is on the table, it’s time to incorporate some elements into the implementation plan that will create conditions for people to “own” certain parts of the solution, which they’ll accomplish by taking part in its development.

    For aspiring leaders at middle and front-line levels of the organization, it behooves them to likewise take a combined top-down and bottom-up approach.  If a front-line worker discovers or invents a method that identifies and eliminates 50% of the waste in a daily activity, it’s a great idea to make sure her process can be sustained by getting appropriate top management visibility and opportunity to impart some strategic perspectives after some initial successes, just to make sure it keeps spreading.

    So, what are some things to think about when introducing an improvement that will require some behavior or mindset changes?  Below are some considerations, in the form of a checklist, for those seeking strategically aligned, energized, sustainable improvements.

    A starter checklist

    • Here’s a pragmatic starter checklist for any person, at any level who is considering introducing a change that may require new behaviors or mindset shifts:
    • Is there a plan for getting top management to inject the needed “top” strategic perspective into the change effort?
    • Is there a mechanism for people who will be affected by the change to somehow shape the local implementation of it?
    • Do all communication attempts – initiated from any level -- have an associated feedback loop to find out how effective the communication was?
    • Is there a way for informal, local actions to receive the formal approval to continue? (While local efforts may reap great rewards initially, for the change to spread like wildfire there will at least need to be a tacit approval of its existence, and at most there will be active support.)
    • Are there practices in place for engaging groups of people with diverse perspectives in reviewing relevant input, thinking together, generating solutions, evaluating options, and then collectively developing action plans?
    • Is there accountability for results among people on a peer-to-peer basis, as well as a level-to-level basis?

    If you get started on the above items, your change effort will be off to a great start, and will be postured to yield audacious results.

    Sunday
    May222011

    A Brief Time to Reflect

    After presenting at a recent conference on Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare in New Orleans, I stayed around the city and my wife joined me for a mini-vacation.  The New Orleans jazz, food, and museums were all spectacular.  On a more somber note, one afternoon we took a tour of the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  One of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, over 1,800 people died and total property damage was estimated at $81 billion for this 2005 natural disaster.  After the levee system failed, 80% of the city and large parts of neighboring parishes become flooded, and were underwater for weeks.

    Imagine having to evacuate your home under extreme duress, and then returning to find that your entire home -- and all your possessions -- had been swept away.  And the only remnant of your home when you returned after two weeks of waiting to return was a concrete slab that marked your old address.  That’s what the people whose home used to be atop the concrete slab in the above photograph that I took experienced. Many, many other New Orleans residents experienced a similar fate.

    It’s one thing when you see network news footage of the Katrina disaster on your TV.  It’s quite another to drive through the affected parishes and witness firsthand the devastation.

    It gave me pause to stop and reflect that no matter how bad a day I might be having with getting ready for my day (for example, the film person who was supposed to show up and shoot my session couldn’t make it because there was an accident on a bridge to New Orleans and the bridge was closed), there are many others who would gladly swap problems with me on that sunny New Orleans Thursday when I presented.  This photograph and other accounts of Katrina continue to remind me of my good fortune in life long after my Louisiana visit.

    Though all looks well in the French Quarter and other tourist sections of town, outside of town there is still major rebuilding going on.  It’s still possible to lend some support to Katrina survivors, and this CNN site has some links that provide some contact points to help:  http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2005/katrina/help.center/

    This experience reminded me that periodically it can be a good idea to cease activities in our busy days and for a few minutes to sit down and jot down three great things that we have that we’re grateful for.  Is there any time your week this week to do that?  It can be a powerfully positive exercise, I suggest you make those three minutes a priority this week, and go ahead and give this exercise a shot.

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