Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lean Leadership for People Powered Excellence

I just returned from the 2014 AME International Lean Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The conference tagline was “Strategic Success through People Powered Excellence.” Implied in this tagline is the fact that “people powered excellence” is only possible if leaders lead differently. Therefore strategic success is not attained by conducting leadership strategy sessions and hoisin planning but clearly through the leadership of people.

This annual conference was a jam packed event that spanned 4-1/2 days. A client who works in the construction industry, and was attending his first AME conference, noted that in his eyes this was not a lean conference but rather a leadership conference. He and most attendees were exposed to keynotes and presenters who delivered the message that it requires focused, caring leaders who are willing to spend the time and energy required to engage and empower their people if lean is to be successful.

Here were some of my learning experiences.

• People don’t leave companies – they leave leaders. This was stated by one of conference keynotes – Simon Sinek. I couldn’t agree more. One of the individuals who attended my Monday full day Lean Safety workshop, “The Safe Path to Lean”, shared their frustration with one of her company’s leaders. She was an EHS professional who was passionate about her role and the people who worked in her facility – someone I would consider a model employee. Youthful, energetic and ready to change the world if management would just get out of her way. Instead she has a manger that is living in the past and believes in controlling people and breeding distrust. If the situation doesn’t change she will leave this leader and take her many talents to a new company where she will be fully valued. If you have not heard Simon Sinek’s message about leadership I highly recommend you check it out. He was one of the best keynotes I have ever seen. You can either read his latest book titled “Leaders Eat Last” or watch this 2014 TED talk.

• All of us can lead. At the end of a presentation I struck up a conversation with an individual sitting at my table - a nurse from Canada. She shared with me her efforts to reduce the cycle time of a visit to an emergency room for treatment. This is one of my hot buttons and an example I use in my workshops when discussing value added time versus non-value added time in the total cycle time of any process. If you, like me, have ever been to an emergency room for treatment you understand my frustration. My last visit resulted in a total cycle time of over three hours with the valued added time (when I was being treated) totaling about 10 minutes. She noted that in the Canadian Healthcare system the wait averaged six hours before you had contact with a doctor. They have now reduced that to four hours and are administering basics medical tests while the patient waits. She talked with passion about her ongoing efforts to drive the wait time down even further. She reinforced the fact that any of us, when empowered by leadership, can lead lean.

• Teamwork still works. A former AME colleague, who pasted away a few years ago, would have been bursting with pride if she had been able to attend a session presented by her employees. She was a passionate leader who helped to define “people centric leadership.” After purchasing this company with a partner she began the arduous journey of redirecting a top down directive company culture to one where employees are valued, engaged and empowered. My how far they have come. To build upon what she had started, over the past few years the employees have been organized and developed into high performance work teams. The presenters in this session were not managers but instead hourly workers who now own their piece of the business. They spoke with passion and ownership and were a great example of what can happen in any business if managers learn to trust and empower their employees.

I was the volunteer marketing chair for this conference. For over two years I had the opportunity to work with a team of passionate volunteers to plan and then execute the largest and best lean conference I have ever attended. It will happen again next October when the conference will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio. Below is a link to the conference website. I will be disappointed if you are not there.

My next book, Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Workforce Engagement and Culture Change, will be released early in December. It contains 20 case studies based on my experiences over the last four years. It can be pre-ordered from the publisher, Productivity Press, or at Amazon Books.

Stay safe!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Employee Engagement Driven by a Philosophy of Continuous Improvement

When building new facilities or defining new processes hazards can be keep out of, or at the least minimized in the work environment. In reality most HSE professionals are dealing with old facilities and long standing processes in which risks and hazards currently exist. Similarly, the current culture (how people think, act and interact) of an existing business is often saddled with people problems and challenges that management has to deal with daily. A common solution to both risk reduction and a cultural re-direction is a new management philosophy grounded in the dual beliefs that the customer is first and each and every employee should be engaged in business improvement. That continuous improvement philosophy is commonly called “Lean.”

What is Lean? It is not a program but a philosophy. It is a way of thinking and seeing the world. Management teams all over the world want to improve the businesses they manage. Lean provides a structured approach that is simple to understand but difficult to implement. Difficult to implement because it requires most managers to change their style of leadership while engaging all of their reports in a journey of workplace culture change. Not many managers have the stomach to lead this rigorous journey but those who do are unique. They understand that a business must focus on customer – not profitability. They clearly understand that if you have satisfied customers profitability will follow.

Many businesses are still managed in a hierarchical top down directive fashion which relies on layers of managers telling their reports what to do. Traditional compliance safety management is a mirror reflection of these directive management practices. It relies on EHS professionals often telling people what to do and policing them to ensure compliance. Progressive businesses that utilize a lean or continuous improvement approach to management have come to the realization that a new style of leadership is necessary. A people centric approach to leadership that requires managers to ask the right questions rather than have the right answers. Managers must extend trust to others so they return trust. It is a team building exercise which develops a workforce focused on customer and continuous improvement because it makes sense to them. It makes sense because management has allowed them to be involved and engaged in business improvement. They go home at the end of their workday feeling as if they have made a difference. They feel empowered.

How can EHS professionals take advantage of and support this type of cultural shift in a business? First they must themselves become proponents of this new leadership style. In this era of lifelong learning they must start by personally accepting the responsibility to understand Lean and how this way of thinking can positively benefit both them and their business. Armed with this new understanding they can now start to give focus to the continuous improvement of the EHS processes they manage. In addition they can take advantage of the new switched on workforce by engaging them in EHS improvement activities.

Most of the lean tools used to drive cycle time reduction from business processes can also be used to drive continuous improvement safety. Some examples are safety kaizens blitz events and safety gemba walks. A traditional kaizen blitz is a structured, clearly defined multi-day rapid continuous improvement activity that engages a cross-functional team in the pursuit of cycle time gains. EHS professionals can use that same structured framework to challenge a team of hourly workers to reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries or their exposure to hazards. By facilitating safety kaizen events an EHS professional can engage and empower those who do the work to make a safety difference in their own work area. When this is done effectively it builds trust and starts to shift the ownership of safety to those who perform the work.

Safety gemba walks are educational events intended to help others see and understand continuous improvement safety. Gemba, a Japanese word, refers to “where the work is done.” Traditional safety walks through a work area focus on non-compliance while safety gemba walks focus on pro-active safety improvement. By simply observing people at work and engaging them in conversations about the body positioning required to perform the work hazards can be identified and eliminated. Just as in the kaizen blitz events the key to success is the engagement of the workers in the identification and elimination of the hazards. That key understanding is what differentiates Lean, or continuous improvement safety from traditional compliance safety.

This approach benefits EHS professionals in many ways. Their organizations will view them as even more valuable for they are:
1. Reducing cycle times of business processes by focusing the workforce on safety improvement.
2. Building trust between the workforce and management.
3. Engaging others is EHS activities.
4. Proactively reducing the possibility of injuries.

This is a proactive risk reduction approach driven by continuous improvement and should be the model for every EHS manager for just managing EHS compliance is no longer good enough.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lean Safety Gemba Rambling

In the UK walking in the countryside is often referred to as rambling. There are trails and paths throughout the UK that ramblers can follow. Unlike in the US where hiking trails are almost exclusively on public land these meandering “rights of way” crisscross the terrain through private and public lands. Gates and stairs allow access over and through the fences and hedges that line most pastures and fields so that these historical routes can be traversed unimpeded.

On my recent trip to the UK my host had arranged for us to spend the night in a village just a few miles from Stonehenge. Both the visitor’s center and the world heritage prehistoric monument site were scheduled to close shortly after we arrived. Then as we drove down a gravel road to get a view of the monument we noticed a path leading to the Stonehenge site. Someone quickly informed us that the site, and the path leading to it, was now closed for the day. Our disappointment did not last long for he also shared the fact that just a short distance down the gravel road was a gate through which we could enter a sheep pasture. Once inside we could follow the unmarked rambler's path to a spot from which we could view and photograph Stonehenge. Unlike all of the tourists who had paid to walk a different path to view Stonehenge we rambled along a free access path.

Employee engagement is the only path a company can follow to achieve lean (continuous improvement) success. The definition of lean, to reduce the delivery cycle time to customer by eliminating waste from a business' processes, is simple to understand yet oh so difficult to implement. It is difficult because success requires the business culture to change. Much like rambling the meandering trails that crisscross the UK a business must define its own, at times unclear, path to lean cultural success. No clear straight path exists because lean is a philosophy and each business must struggle with the application of the philosophy. Therefore most businesses get lost on their lean journey.

My journey across the UK provided me the opportunity to visit four manufacturing sites. All were on the arduous lean journey with each tackling their cultural challenges in their own way using a variety of lean tools. At each site I led a lean safety gemba walk and on each one of them my fellow lean ramblers discovered the secret to employee engagement and culture change. Simply engage the people doing the work in honest trust building conversations about how to make their work safer and easier. Then work with them to implement those changes.

A few days before my departure for the UK I had the opportunity to facilitate a lean safety training event for a construction company. A company executive who attended the training and participated in the gemba walk sent me this feedback the week after the event.

"I, too, learned a lot. I've read several books about lean (but not nearly enough) and I've attend a variety of seminars and workshops, but you opened up a new perspective for me. The idea of recognizing safety risks as opportunities for lean improvement is unique. By making a work activity safer we also make the work more productive. I think most lean practitioners do the reverse - they look for waste in the production cycle, fix that, and then trust that the process improvement also makes the work safer. But having a worker-centric point of view makes the whole lean improvement idea more personal and grounded in ethics, which makes sense to me."

Lesson learned: Ethical, people centric leaders will lead their businesses to lean success while profit centric, cost cutting leaders will not. Even more important is that at the end of their working career they will be able look back and feel good about all of the people they have touched. An executive at an Australian company, where I facilitated a lean safety workshop just a few weeks ago, send me an email in which he stated the event had been a “watershed moment” for him. He made the personal shift toward people centric leadership. My goal to change the world, or at least how the world views workplace safety, is attainable but slow it its progress. Slow because I am convincing one leader at a time.

I am already beginning to schedule training events for 2015. If you would like to schedule a lean safety gemba walk through your facility let me know. I can guarantee, as we ramble, your view of workplace safety will be changed forever.

Cheers mates. Stay safe.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lean Safety Gemba Walks Down Under

I recently returned from a trip to Australia where I had the opportunity to conduct Lean Safety workshops in four different facilities. They were different because they made different products and were located in different cities in Australia. Their similarities were they employed people, had a company culture and wanted to move their lean/continuous improvements efforts forward. In that sense they were like every manufacturing business in the world. By now every business has experimented with Lean. Everyone seems to be “on the journey” and yet too many business leaders still believe Lean is a program. After much effort and very little progress a few of them finally realize Lean is a philosophy and a culture change journey built upon trust.

Lean Safety is the easiest entry point for those businesses to begin or restart their cultural change journey. Lean Safety is an employee engagement methodology that provides a mind shifting view of workplace safety. By giving focus to the impact of work on an individual, and then improving their work processes, multiple benefits result. Those who perform the work tasks end up seeing safety differently, go home less tired at the end of their workday and understand the answer to the “what’s in it for me” question that everyone asked to participate in Lean wants answered. The business also realizes multiple benefits - increased employee engagement (trust building), a safety culture that begins to focus on the continuous improvement of safety and not just compliance safety, and the cycle time of the business processes improved via the safety improvement activities are reduced which supports the goal of Lean (to reduce the delivery cycle time to customers by eliminating waste). That is why it doesn’t matter what you make or where your facility is located. Lean is a culture change journey during which management teams have to extend trust first in order to earn it. That requires leaders to internally understand, practice, and in the end become “people centric” leaders. They no longer need to have the right answers – instead they have to ask the right questions. Leaders unwilling to invest their time in that personal change should forget about Lean.

At each of the sites I visited in Australia I meet leaders who were curious about the Lean Safety approach. Three of the events were public workshops with outside attendees and one was an internal event attended by company managers from multiple sites. The sites produced diverse products that ranged from food to building and formed steel products. Yet at each site the cultural results of the workshop were the same. The workshop attendees were trained to identify Lean Safety opportunities, split into small kaizen teams and then sent to the gemba (where the work is performed) for their Lean Safety Gemba Walk during which they engaged the workers in honest trust building conversations. Each kaizen team then prepared a presentation to management and delivered their results to end the workshop. After hearing the report outs and witnessing the excitement of the presenters the managers who had been curious about Lean Safety now clearly understood the power of this approach.

The internal workshop which had only company managers in attendance was very interesting. They, rather than just looking for improvement opportunities, did a great job of reflecting and reporting on their own behaviors and acknowledged the need to change. It was a deep dive into the company culture that spoke loudly to their desire and commitment to real change in their business.

All of the events in Australia had been organized by the SIRF Roundtable organization. SIRF is a group of highly skilled facilitators who organize and facilitate common interest sessions for their member companies. I am now off to England to continue my effort to change the world, or at least how the world views work place safety.

If you are not already registered for the largest and best lean conference in the world you should do so. It is organized by AME ( and will be held in Jacksonville, Florida November 10-14, 2014. Just click on the website link to get more information. Or contact me if you have any questions.

My second book, Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Employee Engagement and Culture Change, should be available late fall. You can pre-order the book from the publisher, Productivity Press, or from Amazon books.

Stay safe!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Continuous Improvement of Air Travel

I know some of you think mentioning air travel and continuous improvement together is an oxymoron. Due to the increased security measures and an airline industry that has spent more time devising new fees than it has spent thinking about customer service, air travel can be a disappointing experience. As a consultant I travel a fair bit. Because I am an easy going guy I am hard to rile up even when my travel experiences do not go as planned. Therefore a side benefit of my air travel is access to an unlimited number of examples I can use in my workshops and presentations to help others understand the potential improvements that could be made to a process. Let’s start with the TSA security check process we all have to endure when traveling by air.

A common lean methodology is to make information visual. Visual so that it is easily understood and accessible by all. The TSA does not understand this concept for whether I am going through the normal security check line or the TSA preferred line a TSA employee is standing around and occasionally shouts out instructions about what has to be removed from your baggage or your body. Simply visual drawings of stick figures with luggage could be used to tell the story of what has to be removed. These multi-lingual placards could be positioned at various points along each line. Then the individual who is standing around shouting could add value to the process by staffing another security check line thus speeding the inspection process for all travelers.

Here is another one. Have you ever been in line when the small plastic trays used to hold your shoes, computer, etc. are unavailable because they are all at the discharge side of the inspection process? Sure you have because it happens all day long. If the TSA understood and utilized the kanban replenishment lean tool this problem would never again slow the cycle time of moving people through the inspection process. To begin you would need three carts for each security line. Two of them loaded with a predetermined quantity of trays at the start of the line. The third cart, which would be empty, would be placed at the end of the inspection station. A max fill line would be painted on the vertical handle of each cart and when the empty trays reached that trigger point the TSA agent would move the full cart to the start of the line and bring back an empty cart. The filled cart is the kanban replenishment signal. This simply lean methodology could end the waiting for trays that delays their customers. If the TSA did indeed see us as their customers it could be a game changer. Now let’s move onto the plane and improve the luggage storage process.

By charging a fee for luggage checked onto a flight the airlines drove their customers to carry as much of their luggage as they possible could onto the plane. As a result the overhead storage trays are stuffed to overcapacity on almost every flight. Once they are full frustrated passengers have to carry their bags upstream, against the flow of traffic, to the front of the plane so they can be gate checked. And to add insult to injury there is always the announcement that “we will begin the departure process as soon as all of the bags are stowed.” They must understand they created this chaos by charging for baggage! I believe the price of carrying the luggage on a flight was always, and still is, built into their ticket pricing model. The airlines should eliminate the greed inspired baggage fees and spend their time improving the luggage collection; storage and retrieval process so that all customers can check their large luggage and only carry onto the plane a small carryon bag. Just think of the positive impact on the boarding process. It would both speed it up and make it safer. Requiring people to lift their 40 pound bags over someone’s head might be an OSHA violation – maybe OSHA should step in and issue citations for unsafe work practices and force the airline industry to change! Or maybe the airlines should issue hard hats to anyone sitting in an aisle seat!

Because of all the uncertainty, caused by the wasteful airline processes described above and variables like the weather, industry on time travel statistics suffered. Late flights became the norm. Rather than improve the poor processes the airlines seem to have taken a different approach. Have you noticed that the flight times you are now given, for any flight you book, are much longer than the actual “in the air” flight time? I think airlines have added extra time to the promised flight time so they can meet their on-time metrics. My flights now often land “ahead of schedule.” The question is was the flight schedule realistic or was it padded with extra time to cover up the wasteful processes of the airline industry.

My recent travels have taken me to the San Diego area where I conducted a 2-day Lean Safety workshop at a medical device company. The results of this public workshop were beneficial to both the attendees, who learned to see safety differently, and for the host site which was left with around 100 opportunities for improvement. I then facilitated at 1-day workshop for a local Chicago area company whose core competency is machining. They wanted to build a safety culture that engaged their employee based safety committee in safety improvement. A company’s culture is how people who are employed there think, act and interact. During the team report outs, at the end of the training day, a new passion for safety and working together was evident. I left feeling very satisfied that I had made a difference in the company culture.

There are some places you do not expect to go as a lean safety consultant - one of them being Manhattan in New York, NY. Yet I recently was invited by a large construction management company to contribute to a multi-day lean training program they were conducting for their local management team in mid-town Manhattan. I was asked to help the attendees understand the strong connection between their lean efforts and continuous improvement safety. Based on the end of day feedback the connection was made.

My summer consulting schedule is slow, which is just fine with me. It will allow me some time to get together with family and friends, play golf and watch way too much of the world cup soccer tournament before my travel starts again in the early fall. September will see me visiting both Australia and England. The SIRF organization will be sponsoring my visit to Australia and AME along with True North Excellence Ltd. are my sponsors in the UK. If you reside in either of those countries I hope we have a chance to connect during my visit. If you are interested in my travel and event schedule in those countries just let me know.

Stay safe!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Workforce Engagement and Culture Change

So where have I been? My last blog post was ages ago. Well, instead of writing blog posts I committed myself and my time to completing the manuscript for a second book. The great news is that I signed a publishing agreement with the Taylor and Francis Group in mid-March and last week, while working on the East coast, I sent the electronic version of the manuscript to the acquisitions editor for the first review. The new book, Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Workforce Engagement and Culture Change is a natural progression that resulted from my first book, Lean Safety – Transforming Your Safety Culture with Lean Management.

In the first book I attempted to help the compliance based safety community understand the management philosophy called lean and how they could, using some of the lean tools along with their safety expertise, develop a continuous improvement safety culture that would not only support but advance their company’s lean efforts. And it is working. How do I know? Because I have witnessed the mind-shift change of so many people over the last four years. The new book contains 20 case studies that overview my involvement at 20 different sites along with stories about some of the people who I challenged and engaged. The case studies are a validation of my belief that the easiest entry point to employee engagement and business culture change is safety. I do not yet have a release date for the new book but it should be available sometime this fall. It will be my new tool to change the world – or at least how the world views workplace safety.

Speaking of the world I recently returned from a trip to the other side of the world. I had the opportunity to visit three different Australian companies and spread the Lean Safety message in March. The site’s processes were unique, steel coil processing and painting, cement manufacturing and home appliance assembly, yet all three sites provided ample opportunities for the participants to see and understand the duel power of Lean Safety – making work safer and easier while at the same time reducing process cycle times. It is indeed a long commute to work but I am already planning another visit for this fall. If you reside there and would like to connect let me know in advance.

After returning home for about five days I departed for the Boston, MA area. As I often do I combined work with pleasure. I first visited with a cousin who resides on Cape Cod before visiting two different companies in the Boston suburbs. I had a wonderful time reconnecting with my cousin and his wife. Even though we were separated by a 1000 miles we discovered we had been on parallel journeys – raising three children and developing many of the same interests.

I know in the near future my publisher is going to ask me for a few quotes that will be used on the back cover of my latest book. If you understand the power of Lean Safety and it has made a difference in your thinking maybe you would like to write a quote. Just send me an email and I will send you a few chapters from the new book. After reading them you can craft a quote that might be included on the back cover – no guarantees for the publisher selects the final few quotes from the stack I provide.

My next public workshop will be at an Abbott facility in Temecula, CA on May 20-21, 2014. Contact me if you would like information on the event. Stay safe.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Firefighting versus Process Focused Leadership

You can continuously cope or you can continuously improve – the choice is yours. Managers who spend their days putting out one fire after another are masters of coping. They go home from work exhausted but feeling good about themselves because they managed to overcome the problems and difficulties that arise constantly in businesses that fail to train their managers to become process focused leaders. Fixing things rather than improving processes dominates each of their work days. I recently witnessed this type of work culture at my local Sam’s Club.

Winter has been harsh here in the Midwest this year. With temperature well below zero and my car turning over at the speed of change in the US congress I decided to proactively purchase a new battery. Since we were planning a shopping trip to Sam’s Club I decided to purchase and have the battery installed while we shopped. When I made the battery purchase the mechanic asked, with hope in his voice, if I was taking the battery home to install it. They were busy and he noted it would take from 60-90 minutes for them to get to and complete the installation. I disappointed him by saying I would take advantage of the free installation and asked to be paged when it was completed. Over the next 90 minutes my wife and I explored the items in each aisle, had lunch, and waited for the page. When finally called I proceeded to the service area only to be informed that there was a problem. A very disappointed mechanic informed me they couldn’t install the battery because they did not have the 10mm deep socket required to loosen the battery clamps that held it in place. I asked what it would take to get a replacement socket and received a look of frustration and a head shake shoulder shrug combo as the response. I then asked how long it would take to complete the installation if they had the correct socket. Eight minutes was his response. I’ll be right back, I said.

A two minute walk later I was in a Home Depot. I selected a $1.98 10mm deep socket, used the self-checkout to make the purchase, and was back in the service department in about eight minutes. While the installation was taking place I spoke to a manager at the service counter. I explained the situation that had just occurred. When I reference that the problem was not that the mechanic didn’t have the required socket, but was instead the management problem of not having defined a process for tool replenishment I received a puzzled look in response. When I explained that I was a lean (continuous improvement) consultant who spent his time helping businesses improve their business processes she smiled wryly and noted I could spend a lot of time in her facility. It was quickly obvious to me my frustration may have been lessened by talking about the problem but this manager did not have the authority to make any real change. The promised eight minute installation cycle time was about to expire so I proceeded to the service area.

As I approached a different manager was engaged in a conversation with one of the mechanics. Still dreaming of getting someone to understand the “process was the problem” I corralled her and shared my story yet again. Her first question was, what size is the socket they need? Despite all my attempts to change her thinking she walked away repeating “10mm deep socket” over and over so she wouldn’t forget to order the mechanics one. She worked in a firefighting culture and she was determined to put this one out! If leadership at Sam’s understood and had passion for lean they would train their mangers in the basic easy to understand lean concepts that would result in process focused leaders in each of their clubs. If that was the case I could have had a two-way conversation about setting up a kanban replenishment system for the mechanics tools with some hope that it would be addressed after I departed. Instead I left with the feeling that a 10mm socket would be purchased and the mechanics would a get a butt chewing for losing or misplacing the original socket because businesses that fail to focus on process improvement also blame and point fingers at people.

May each of you have a healthy and happy New Year filled with joy and shared experiences. With renewed resolve put away your firefighter hats and focus on the process problems within your business in 2014. And as always - stay safe.