Tag Archives: innovation

Developing a Listening Culture

team_listening

In a previous post Leadership and a Trusting Culture   I talked about the importance of developing trust as a critical component of  managing change in any organization.

To build trust, leaders must first develop listening skills.

Team members must know that their ideas will be heard and given proper consideration. The synergies to be derived from team participation will never be realized if team members don’t trust that their leadership will listen and have a capacity to understand them.

Well intentioned leaders often “kill” ideas without even realizing that they are doing it. A large number of phrases have crept into our daily speech that result in immediate freezing of the desire to openly share ideas.  “We have tried that before”, ” that will never work”  are some examples of  idea killing phrases that will halt any creative cooperation. Being careful  to refrain from providing “knee jerk” negative feedback is an important skill to be acquired by all leaders.

It is a well established method in all types of brainstorming exercises to withhold criticism while ideas are being gathered.  The absence of criticism provides an atmosphere where creativity is uninhibited.  Once all ideas are vented, the leader and the team may engage in the critical evaluation of the benefits, costs, and general practicality of each solution to the problem at hand.

The “wild and crazy” ideas that appear impractical at first, often become the real problem solvers.  If  team members are free to think and express themselves they can often put a different “spin” on an impractical idea that overcomes the initial objections.  One idea may be the initial spark of creativity that can be used as a “springboard” by other team members.

When a leader criticizes prematurely, or places too many limits on the types of ideas that are welcomed, the results are predictably unproductive.  In a recent Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams makes this point.

Tom Feltenstein  offers a hilarious and powerful video, titled “99 Idea Killers.”

Paul Williams advises teams to “pause before you pounce” on an idea.  He has developed  “Idea Killer Bingo Card” to help teams recognize their own use of reactive negative feedback.

I heard one of  QMA clients express disappointment with the results of their “suggestion box” recommendations.  In facilitating some of their team efforts it became evident to us that leaders, at all levels, were quick to criticize the ideas of others and find reasons why the solutions wouldn’t work.  They often assumed they knew the answers to the problems.

After privately confronting them with their negative attitudes towards the ideas of others, they made genuine efforts to improve the way they interacted with team members.  It turned out that many of their inefficiencies were easily eliminated once team members trusted their leaders to listen to them and became fully engaged in the organization’s continual improvement efforts.

What is the worst idea killing criticism you’ve witnessed?  Do you have a special technique to deal with negativity of  “idea killers”?  Please share your comments below.

Lean and ISO Working Together

Some people think that compliance with ISO 9001:2008 inhibits innovation and Lean transformational change. This is very far from the truth. I previously wrote about how compatible and complementary both methods are when implemented in the same timeframe. I will explain in more detail below.

ISO requires the organization to be engaged in Continual Improvement.  Lean provides one vehicle for a company to be focused on the customer, while constantly working at making the organization’s processes more effective.

ISO 9001 is designed in a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) format for Continual Improvement.  In implementing ISO, we plan for the development (Plan), we implement it (Do), we audit against the standard (Check) and we take corrective action when necessary and continue the cycle by identifying and pursuing opportunities for improvement (Act).

During the Planning stage, we can use the Lean principles to assure that the documentation is “value-added”, that they are truly needed, that procedures are written in a simple concise manner and that work instructions are made as visual as possible and easily understood by the user.  Procedures and work instructions should encourage their use and facilitate training and cross-training.

The key for the ISO implementation is to get a “snap-shot” of the Current State and to document it.  Value Stream Mapping, a Lean method, is useful in identifying process steps  and opportunities for improvement in the Current State and to document the possible improvements in a Future State Map.  A Continual Improvement Plan could then be developed to identify actions, responsibilities, and target dates for the improvements.

Significant improvements will be documented as “Preventive Actions” for follow-up in the ISO system.  Any improvement that reduces lead-time or increases product/service Quality is a valid candidate as a Preventive Action as it will prevent customer dissatisfaction.

In Lean, Rapid Improvement Events (Kaizen) address solutions to the opportunities identified in the Continual Improvement Plan. Once such solutions are identified, tested and implemented (again, P-D-C-A), the new process needs to be documented in the ISO system.

Lean uses the concept of “standard work”, a method that identifies the sequence of activities, the use of the resources needed, and the time planned to keep up with customer demand.  Standard work provides an excellent vehicle for identifying the “inputs” and “outputs” for each process as required by ISO standards.

Sustainability of Lean methods, such as the 5s workplace organization, requires following up and auditing to assure that the organization does not return to the “old ways”.  The ISO systems for conducting Internal Audits and taking Corrective and Preventive Actions provide methods for sustaining the Lean improvements made, provided these processes are standardized and documented.  Checklists can be written to include these improved processes so that they can be audited and monitored.

It all fits together.  There is no need to be concerned with a “chicken/egg” argument, as to which should be done first. Just plan what you want to do, then do it, check it and act on it! You will always want to make it better, and should.

Manufacturing and Innovation

There is no doubt that the key to long-term success in manufacturing is innovation in every facet of the business, from developing unique products, like the iPod, to finding new ways of getting products into people hands, like Amazon.com.

Pharmaceutical and consumer products companies, among others, have historically shifted their mature products overseas, while maintaining at least some of their domestic operations for the development and early production of new products and line extensions. US based manufacturing has heavily relied on the rate of innovation of the organization. This trend continues and is the key to our manufacturing base.

High margin products, such as medical devices, are less sensitive to relative production costs as long as they have a unique product. Even in those cases, as volume increases the financial pressures to migrate production to locations with lower labor costs also increase. Such high margin industries continue to be significant to our manufacturing base.

In South Florida, manufacturing is not considered by local governments as a target sector for expansion. No effort is made to attract new manufacturing plants. Municipalities and county governments are more interested in attracting and retaining “cleaner” industries, such as, tourism and entertainment. On a national scale, manufacturing has not been recognized as the significant sector that it is.

The role of government at every level is to provide the conditions needed for innovative manufacturing to flourish and to prevent other countries from establishing barriers to the entry of our products while our doors are wide open to the world’s products.

To summarize, I agree that innovation is the key to continued success combined with forward thinking leadership at every level of government.