Industry Week’s Continuous Improvement newsletter has just published the following article which you may find of interest as you meditate on the coming year.
OK, I know. You are going to exercise more often, eat less fatty food, lose weight, save more money, and maybe even write that book you have been swearing you would write for the past five years! And, maybe you can add a few things to your list that won’t be so hard to do and which will actually improve your own performance, and that of those around you.
Here are some suggestions guaranteed to improve performance in almost any work place.
First, let’s agree to encourage others. I know it is a simple and obvious thing. But, we all thrive on encouragement. Let us agree to see the potential, not simply the current reality, in each of our team members. There is something I like to call “creative dissatisfaction” which is the gap between who we are and who we know we could become… and, there is always a gap, no matter how great we may be. Rather than pointing out what I am not (and there is lots you could point to!), how about pointing to what or who I could become? It’s a small difference that makes a huge difference. When I have a vision of who I could become I develop a drive, that creative dissatisfaction, to achieve, to close that gap.
Second, strive to become a scientist in the coming year. It may sound strange, but how we make judgments are often colored by learned biases. Continuous improvement is the result of the continuous design of experiments, watching the data, understanding cause and effect and the humility to say “Oh, well, that one didn’t work. Let’s try something else.” The great managers, like the great scientists, respect the data and have the courage to experiment and to learn from what the data is telling them.
Third, demonstrate through your deeds the value of the world’s greatest experts who are on-the-spot. The traditional culture of our organizations has taught us that “moving up” is valued; those who have been promoted up in the organization must be worth more. We naturally value them. But, who actually serves customers? Who does the real work that adds value to customers and who become genuinely expert in the process of serving customers? It is most often not those who are “up” but those who have their hands on the real work. The Gemba walk is a philosophy, not merely something you do with your feet and the philosophy is to learn from and value those who are on-the-spot.
Fourth, commit to your team. A very few significant successes are attributable to individuals alone. Individual successes are more likely to be achievements in the arts or sciences, rather than in business. Most success in business is the result of teamwork. You are a member of a team. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great defined what he called the Level 5 Leader who managed to sustain great companies over time. These leaders where not ego driven charismatic stars, rather they were focused on building great teams. “Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make head-lines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.”  So make this the year when you focus less on yourself and more on your team. Give them credit, demand that they work together as a team, and insist that they do what you expect from everyone else: know and serve their customers; know and improve their own processes; and strive to win against their own team’s scorecard.
Fifth, practice Four-to-One: In the mid 1970’s I worked with Fran Tarkenton and Aubrey Daniels at Behavioral Systems, Inc. We took the research of Dr. Ogden Lindsley who studied the effects of positive reinforcement versus negative comments by teachers in the classroom. He found that the ideal ratio that maximized learning was 3.57 positive to 1 negative. We rounded it off and called it Four-to-One. We encouraged plant supervisors to record their positive and negative comments to employees and too often it was one to four, in other words four times the number of negative comments than positive. This year, try to achieve the four-to-one ration of positive to negative interactions with your employees. This focus on positive behavior and achievements will increase positive behavior and achievements. Almost forty years later that is now being practiced at Toyota and other great companies. It works!
Sixth, Find the Noble in Your Work: We all live our lives in the moment, struggling to do what is urgent, but always longing to find the important, that which is noble and worthy in our work. The most primary source of motivation is the search for meaning, the desire to accomplish something worthy. I believe it is important to meditate on what we do and why it is important. The best public speaking advice I ever heard was to be certain, before you stand in front of an audience, that you have something genuinely important to say, something important for that audience. If you don’t believe you have something important to say, there is no way you can fool the audience into believing it is important. Management and leadership are the same. Have something important to say. Meditate on how you and your company are making this world just a little bit better each year. And, then say it to your employees. Make life in your organization important and worthy.
I am sure you can think of other commitments you can make going into the New Year. It is a good time to reflect on how we can each improve, both personally and professionally. It would be a good idea to ask your entire management team to reflect on their own behavior and how they could each improve, how they could each contribute to the collective performance of the group.
And, oh…, I will complete that book I have been working on for the past five years!!!
 Collins, Jim, Good to Great. pp. 12-13.