One of the biggest differentiators between manufacturing organizations is how they learn and improve. Continuous improvement is a popular buzzword in the industry, but few organizations have tapped the top tiers of continuous improvement. After seeing manufacturers at all the different stages of the continuous improvement journey, I have 3 steps to help your team get grounded in the foundations of continuous improvement.
The most important thing you can have in continuous improvement is a growth mindset. This sounds simple, but in practice it can be difficult. According to Carol Dweck, to achieve a growth mindset you need to believe that "you can grow and change based on your efforts." Did you catch that important part at the end? The growth must be based on your efforts, which means that you in-fact are controlling the direction, the rate, and the result of your growth. This means that growth is an active journey, not a passive one, and you must play a role in your own improvement.
I could spend an entire day talking about how important the growth mindset is for your team, but instead I'll ask you these questions:
- When something goes wrong, does your team seek to learn from that event?
- Do you have conversations about how to prevent it from happening again?
- Do you formalize those conversations with new systems and standards?
If you answered "yes" to those questions, then you have a pocket of a growth mindset. Your next task is realizing that sub-cultures exist in every organization. You need to find out if the growth mindset is pervasive in your entire organization or just in a few sub-cultures.
If you can't confidently answer "yes" to those questions, then the rest of this post is for you. I'm going to break down how to set the foundational building blocks of a growth mindset in your organization.
1) Set up a Daily Direction Meeting
The very first thing you need as a foundation of your continuous improvement journey is a Daily Direction Meeting (DDM).
Why Daily? Each improvement cycle has a length built into it. Daily is the easiest to start with, and it has the biggest potential for change in your organization. After you master a daily meeting, you can zoom in for a shiftly meeting (or even twice shiftly) and you can zoom out to weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually. You probably already have a few of these improvement cycles (such as an annual review or annual goals) but perhaps you haven't thought about the improvement cycles as concentric circles zooming in and out of time.
The best DDMs ask three basic questions:
- What happened yesterday?
- What are we going to do differently today?
- What is the plan for today?
There are many different ways to apply these questions with respect to Safety, Quality, Production, Culture, and Cost. (think PQCDSM) These three key questions can also be applied to topics, people, tasks, projects, etc.
Having the meeting is the most important part of the continuous improvement journey because you have the right people in the room right now. If you have the key stakeholders in the room when discussing an issue, you don't need to sub-group it or chase someone down with an email and waste 2 hours. Get everyone that needs to know in the room at the start of the day and watch your problems get solved quickly. If you want people to be incentivized to get to the point, make this a meeting where they stand up rather than sit down.
Okay, so you have a meeting set and you have the right people in the room and everyone is painfully standing, now what?
2) Follow up in between meetings
Follow up. In the meeting, your team will come up with great ideas and action items, but all the energy can dissipate as they leave the room. Reality hits everyone in the face, and our good intentions don't always turn into actions. You will constantly be fighting the force of entropy here, and you as the leader must be the perfect example of follow up.
If you say you are going to do something, you do it at nearly all costs and report back at the next DDM. If you find that you are overcommitting, remember that when you take on a task the next day and be more discerning.
When a team member says they are going to do something, they need to know that you expect them to follow through on their commitment. The simplest way to enforce this is to ask them directly in the meeting the next day about the status. If they didn't do the task, make it clear that it needs to be done today as per our discussion.
Another thing I like to do in situations where a person doesn't consistently follow up is to express to them that you are trying to create a culture of accountability and that you need their support. Express to them that you are anxious to make a change in the organization, and you want them to partner with you in the process. Listen to them, but hold firm with accountability and guidance.
3) Get the right information to your meeting
The last component of a successful continuous improvement foundation is your information. Now that you have accountability in your meetings, it’s crucial to get the best information possible to make informed decisions. Information is the key to having conversations about the most important key performance indicators (KPIs). Your team needs you to help them get the information for this meeting so that they can focus on understanding, analyzing, and deciding. If you are spending the time in the meeting gathering data, you have already lost the game.
The easiest and quickest way to do this is to put up a whiteboard and determine the top three KPIs for your business. You should have someone update these metrics before the meeting and be prepared to walk the team through them as a part of the meeting.
Then put a grid at the bottom for follow ups. The grid should have "What," "Who," "By When," and "Date added" at a minimum. This will help prevent follow up actions from falling through the cracks and will force you to be mindful about what follow ups to assign.
Why a whiteboard? Because you can change it. You should change it. You won't get this right on the first try, and that's okay. In fact, it's necessary. Your team needs to see you willing to change what’s on the whiteboard and change the meeting agenda so that they realize that this is a journey of continuous improvement, not a destination. Your adjusting of the meeting to be more effective for your team is an essential part of their learning process, as well as your own.
Now you have a standing daily meeting at the beginning of your day, a team that is ready to tackle the challenges of the day, and the information essential to making decisions. Continuous improvement is a journey, and I'm happy to be a part of yours.