Imagine this – your business has a critical issue to resolve (if you have a burning issue right now – think about that). If you are like a typical organization, a meeting will be called with a half dozen or more people to “discuss” the issue and course of action. What’s too bad is these “discussions” typically involve one or two people sharing their opinion (sometimes rather loudly) and the rest of the people listening passively and agreeing. Raise your hand if you have ever been in this meeting before. Ok, now put your hand down.
My Opinion is Louder Than Yours!
Opinions are great. They are an essential part of an improvement effort. But, when decisions are solely based on opinions and especially when they are based on a limited number of opinions, it can lead a team astray. Teams that operate this way fall into the trap of confusing activity with improvement. Sort of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It doesn’t matter – this ships going down!
Sure, finding the right data can slow things down a bit, but...
There is a difference between obvious decisions and ones that need more data to point in the right direction. I don’t think anyone would need to collect data before replacing a roll of toilet paper on the hanger. You can see the bare cardboard tube; you know it is gone. That’s all the data you need. Hang the new paper.
But when someone is making claims like, “this happens all the time” or “it’s gotten really bad” – that’s your indicator. Does it happen all the time? Like, every single time? Most of the time? A lot this week?
Translation: If the problem is obvious and the solution is simple - just fix it. But, if the problem is vague and you’re not really sure - go grab some data.
Wouldn't it be nice to know before we start trying to fix it?
When I hear these indicator words (always, never, a lot, quite a bit, etc.) I like to use what I call the 12-15 guideline. This method provides a measurement baseline that is quick, simple, and effective at providing a general idea of past performance.
Performing these simple steps will make it easy to see any trends or outliers, and understand the magnitude of the problem. (Check out the helpful links at the bottom for assistance on steps 2 and 3.)
But what if there is "no way" to measure your problem? Think about it. There is a way that data can describe the problem you are experiencing. Besides, you don't want to pour a lot of effort into something you "think" is a problem only to "not really know" if things are better once all of the action is complete.
Some helpful links:
Using the Average Function In Excel: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Calculate-the-average-of-a-group-of-numbers-e158ef61-421c-4839-8290-34d7b1e68283
Creating a Time Series Plot In Excel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAgldvOtrhI
If you have ever hit your head really hard, you may be familiar with the bright flash of light followed by a little disorientation, confusion, and dizziness. For those that don't know what I am talking about, consider yourself lucky - it's not a fun experience. Just like it is not a fun experience working with a team where everything is moving along smoothly and then someone starts “can’t-standing” (like grandstanding, but with excessive use of the word can't). When that happens I get all the head injury type symptoms. Followed by a massive headache. I hate that word. Can’t. Just looking at it makes me angry.
Can't, Can't, Can't...
That word has derailed more projects than any other word in the English language. I’m not sure which word is currently in second place, but I can guarantee its not a close second. Seriously, the human race has successfully placed a human being on the moon and returned them safely to Earth! I'm pretty sure we can do this.
As a young facilitator, I used to think some people were put on this planet to make sure nothing progresses. Ever. People who habitually use the word can't are not evil people. They're really not.
They can be a huge asset to an improvement team
“Wait, what? You mean my co-worker who invents reasons we can't ever change anything at all is an asset to an improvement team?!? Chris, have you lost your mind?”
People with this tendency are ultra talented at finding barriers. These are often barriers your team is going to have to overcome anyway. The key is in drawing out those barriers while preventing the language from stalling all of the team’s momentum. Here is a process to make that happen.
How to harness the good energy and block out the bad
Preparing for the meeting that you anticipate will turn into a “full-on can’t festival”...
During the Meeting...
After the Meeting...
Consolidate the ideas into an action plan format, and then congratulate yourself and smile (like an "I just did that" cocky kind of smile). Because you, like Christopher Columbus are a crusader - you just navigated some pretty choppy waters and successfully charted the course for you and your crew to discover the new world. Good work.
Thinking of Outsourcing your Internal Audits?
Christopher M. Spranger, MBA, ASQ MBB
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