People Kaizen

Tommy raised an interesting question in his comment to Internalizing Outside Knowledge. He said:

In my company we are working with the developing people concept. Our objective is to make ourselves redundant, but it is hard. What are the best ways of developing people? How do you do it?

How do you do it indeed?

I don’t know the specific situation he is facing, but I can ask some questions that are pretty universal.

What, exactly, are you striving to achieve with your people development? What do you want people to be able to do that they are not doing now? What would that look like if you were to observe it? How would they be interacting with the process, with each other?

If you observe today, what do you actually see? How does that differ from what you described above?

What is the gap between what you want and what you have?

I ask these questions because often we talk about “developing people” but we don’t get specific about what we expect as a result. It is easy to set objectives for kaizen of processes, quality, output, cycle time, etc. But when we talk about people, we get squishy about it.

But the process of improvement remains the same, no matter what (or who) you are trying to improve. And the first step is to know two things:

  • The direction you are trying to move – the ideal, the True North.
  • The next target you are trying to hit now which will move you in that direction.
  • When you expect to be there.

Once you have that, it is time to take a look at what you are actually doing and ask how, exactly, that effort is expected to advance you toward your target.

If the answer to that question is not crystal clear, it is time to step back and reassess your approach. Likely your approach is general and broad-brushed, rather than focused.

What never works is telling people about improvement and expecting them to get excited enough by that message to fill in the details on their own. The idea that “once they grasp the true vision they will engage on their own” is a common one.

But consider this analogy. We all know that mathematics is a wonderful tool. I can tell you all about the great discoveries and engineering feats that mastery of mathematics has enabled. I can show you dozens of examples, even take you through demonstrations of how others have used mathematics to solve problems.

At the end, you might be fired up about math, but you still can’t do it. I may have motivated, but I have not developed anyone.

If I want you to actually use mathematics, I have to assess where their current skills are, establish the next step for them, and construct a situation where they must practice and struggle a bit, but not too much, to “get” the next understanding.

That is called “practice.”

So – back to the original question.

You want to develop people.

What are you having them practice for a little while every day?

How are you providing them immediate feedback on success or failure, and coaching them?

How are you checking your results against the results you intend? What are you doing to develop and improve your own process of people development?


5 Replies to “People Kaizen”

  1. Mark:

    You are right on target here!

    And I think the two most important questions you asked are:

    “What are you having them practice for a little while every day?”

    “How are you providing them immediate feedback on success or failure, and coaching them?”

    My company trained three employees to be “Lean Champions”. However, with the daily demands of their regular jobs and the constant growth of the company (85% on-time delivery), no time has been set aside for them to use the knowledge they gained. “We are too busy to spend time on lean activities.”

    Tommy and his company management need to figure out the “little while every day” part first.

    1. The concept of “a little while every day” is well documented as the way to build a new skill. It is how we learn to play a musical instrument, engage in a new sport. We are taught to read that way, to do math. Yet for some reason corporations exempt themselves from the rules of nature on how people actually learn new things. They get into the “I told them” mode, or send out a memo or a new procedure, and expect that to be enough. “If they would only do their jobs…”

      The daily work structure at Toyota, and other companies who make this stuff stick, includes deliberate time to do this.
      In my “six elements of leadership” I refer to it as “making problem solving a part of the daily work.”

  2. I agree with you, continuous practice and feedback is essential. We do this through traditional theoretical training, simulations and workshops but perhaps most through taking part in their every day work and applying the “the true north” which could be the 14 principles of the Toyota way. The principles are perpetual and applicable to any company while tools and methods may not be suitable everywhere. New methods may have to be developed based on the principles.
    The trick is to incrementally change the way people think, which influences what they see and what they do. It it is not about teaching them lean tools or simply telling them how to perform their daily work. The goal is to create a continuous improvement and problem solving company culture guided by the principles. This takes time and there’s no silver bullit.

  3. Hi Tommy

    Building on the advice from Mark, a useful exercise used in people development is ‘Start, Stop and continue.’
    When setting your goals and development plan, consider which behaviours you need to ‘Start’ doing more of to achieve your goals, what you need to ‘Stop’ doing and which valuable behaviours you need to ‘Continue’ doing and enhance.

    Another option is exploring/establishing a list of key competencies required for the role, You could populate the list with the positive/value adding behaviours for the role. This could be used as a self/peer assessment to set development goals

    Practice and feedback are essential. If you are able to find a coach to support you, this could enhance development.

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