Category Archives: Engagement

Inspiring People to Achieve Epic Wins

“An Epic Win is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive that you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. it was almost beyond the threshold of imagination and when you get there you are shocked to discover what you are truly capable of.” – Jane McGonigal

The problem with many teams I meet is that they have been conditioned to accept their processes and work environment as fixed.  Time after time I hear them say, “we can’t change that…that will never be allowed…we tried to do that, but they said no…that isn’t possible,” etc.  They embrace failure before they start.  What’s worse, underlying these and similar sentiments is the heartbreaking fact that they lack confidence in themselves and their ability to positively affect change.

The online gaming industry has exploded in recent years, and according to Jane McGonigal, one of the reasons for the meteoric rise is the connection online games make with people on a deeply emotional level.  Well designed games allow people to experience challenge, achievement, and feedback in ways reality does not.  Through a series of progressively harder challenges and real time feedback, online games create an environment where participants are intrinsically motivated to push themselves past the threshold of their own imagination and achieve epic wins.

So how do online games motivate players to spend countless hours making mistakes and building skills…and more importantly, is it possible to create a similar environment with our continuous improvement processes?  Here are a few of the keys to developing world-class online games that I believe are most relevant to leaders.

Provide an epic purpose – give them something worth believing in.  If they don’t see the end goal as worthy of the struggle and pain of the journey, they will abandon the efforts at the first sign of failure.

Start small – to create the momentum of accomplishment, select ideas and improvements that take no more than 1 hour to complete and are completely in their control.  The longer it takes to complete the first actions, the harder it is to create and keep momentum.

Build difficulty over time – like a good game, think about the difficulty of your improvements like levels in a game.  Everyone starts at level one, and as they move up the levels through action and accomplishment, the difficulty and complexity of both the problems and the improvements increase.  In each level, the goal is to have the difficulty be within reach of the player, but hard enough to cause them to struggle and grow as a change agent.

Give consistent real, time feedback – at each stage of the game, feedback is a critical and should be an immediate part of the experience.  Through visuals controls, peer to peer recognition and management follow up, seek to provides ways for team members to know their progress at all times.

Make it social – create a collaborative support structure where both team members and team leaders are supported on their journey.  Have team members work together on both suggesting and implementing ideas.  Finally, manage the improvement process visually, so everyone can see, feel and experience the struggles and victories together.

If we are serious about effecting change, we must acknowledge that without the belief that we can create positive outcomes, it is impossible to create a culture where individuals and teams strive each and everyday to achieve epic wins.  As Bill Strickland said, “we have to change the way we see ourselves before we can change our behavior,” and to change how we see ourselves we have to create an environment where teams create their own “winning streaks.”  Online games do this by allowing teams to start small, level up, get real time feedback and create urgent optimism to inspire your people to go after their own epic wins.  Only after we realize that good continuous improvement systems need to embed the elements of a good game will we consistently move teams from “praying to win, to hoping to win, to knowing they could win, to expecting to win.” (Gail Goestenkors)

Be Present and Listen Deeply

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Leaders who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” – Anonymous

Listening is a skill…and for most of us, it is underdeveloped.  When done well, listening is an active event, which leads to a greater understanding of your people, your process and your potential.  When done poorly, listening is a reductive exercise where information and data is cherry picked based on our previous experience, beliefs and biases.  In our Coaching Camp, we teach leaders the importance of listening deeply as a critical step in making an emotional connection with team members.  When a leader develops his / her ability to stay in the moment, they set the stage for a productive partnership where they can inspire team members to engage in continuous improvement and challenge them to grow.

The Japanese have an expression, “ichi go, ichi ei.”  Loosely translated, it means “one time, one meeting” and beautifully demonstrates the concept of listening deeply.  When two people meet in a traditional tea house, they are not allowed to discuss any topic other than their immediate surroundings and the elements of the tea ceremony (the tea, the house, the atmosphere, etc.)  The intent is to develop one’s ability to focus fully on the moment and not be distracted by anything else.  It is a discipline in “being present,” and allows the participants to learn to not only listen to what is being said, but more importantly, what is being communicated.

What effect can listening deeply and being present have on your results?

Risk van Baaren and his colleagues at the University of Nijmegen designed a simple experiment that demonstrated the power of listening deeply and connecting.  The team set up an experiment in a restaurant and asked a waitress to help them.  After seating the customers, she was instructed to take their order in one of two ways.  50% of the time she was to listen politely and then use positive phrases such as “okay” and “coming right up.”  The other 50% of the time, she was asked to repeat the order back to the customers.  The effect of demonstrating she had listened and understood their desires by repeating the customers words back to them was significant.  The customers who had heard their own words repeated left tips that were 70 % larger than those left by the other group.

As team members we all long to feel as if we add value to our organization and that our contribution is recognized by those who lead us.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to make each person feel valuable by removing roadblocks, making the best use of their abilities and listening deeply.  When people feel valuable they create a connection with the organization, each other and those who lead them.  Only when an emotional connection has been made, can you engage your team fully in the process of change and challenge them to reach their potential.

Why Pursuing Big Ideas is Killing Your Culture

The best indicator of successfully developing a continuous improvement culture is your ability to engage people. Because “engagement is all about participation,” according to communications consultant David Sibbet, it is critical that you create a way for people to consistently participate in improvement activities. Creating an annual kaizen event calendar and rotating people on and off improvement teams won’t cut it. You must design a process for individuals to embed change as part of their daily work.

What works best are employee-driven idea systems that focus on small ideas but cultivate them every day in a visual, public way. Not because the ideas themselves are earth-shattering, but because the ability to get them done quickly and demonstrate continued progress is key to motivating people to think big, take risks, and work together to create positive change.

Unfortunately, most leaders have a difficult time believing that thousands of small “unmeasurable ideas” will have any meaningful effect on key financial metrics. As a result, most idea systems quickly die on the vine as leaders create layers of bureaucracy to manage the ideas, and complex return on investment (ROI) criteria to rank each idea in the search of the illusive “game-changing suggestion.” However, when leaders set a clear objective and challenge teams to rapidly implement any idea important to accomplishing their goal, then the true power of creativity and collective energy can be released.

Take an example from the University of Washington. The Grants and Contracts Accounting Group is a 25-member team responsible for the setup, invoicing, reporting, and closing of more than $1.15 billion in annual research grants. When I started working with the team, complex grants could take upwards of 673 days to finalize the outstanding invoices, complete the reporting, and close out the grant in compliance with sponsor requirements. In addition, due to the 228-percent growth in research grants and budget cuts, a backlog of 5,478 grants had developed.

Faced with no new resources and the audacious challenge to eliminate the backlog and cut the time to close to 120 days, we engaged the team and installed a system of daily process improvement. Driven by the goal to identify and solve problems in real time, the team used workflow leveling, pacing, visual controls, and idea pads to capture every roadblock the team encountered. At the end of each day, problems were reviewed and analyzed, and improvements were made so the impact of the change could be viewed the next day. While some of the ideas took multiple days to investigate and implement, the vast majority of the ideas were small, seemingly insignificant changes that could be completed by the next day.

The result? At the end of eight months, the team had eliminated 82 percent of the backlog and increased the number of budgets closed per week by 733 percent. By using a simple daily process to identify and implement small ideas, the team has averaged 4.4 new ideas per person per month and implemented 78 percent of them. It has done this without running kaizen events and without the assistance of internal lean specialists. In fact, change is happening so rapidly that documenting the effect of the ideas has become the enviable problem the team is working to address (at the request of the University).

So why do thousands of small ideas beat a few big ideas every time? Here are a few of the unseen benefits of embracing a “smaller is better” approach to process improvement:

Motivation. Seeing progress is one of the single greatest sources of intrinsic motivation. By documenting and allowing people to see the ideas they have suggested and implemented, and how their ideas have contributed to the larger organizational goals, you give them a simple, consistent, and visual mechanism to see their progress.

Development. By documenting all the small ideas, you create “teachable moments” where you can use actual ideas suggested and implemented to teach others what constitutes good ideas as well as what making progress toward goals each day looks like.

Recognition. By making your idea system visual, it allows you to create a very public method of recognizing all the incremental improvements people are suggesting and implementing. As peer-to-peer recognition is one of the most powerful motivators, the visual element allows teams to celebrate one another and each member’s contribution to their team and the organization.

Sharing. Simple visual idea systems encourage frequent yokoten(knowledge sharing) as each idea is captured, discussed, implemented, and recognized. Unexpected benefits occur during this process as each team member is exposed to the ideas of others and challenged to find opportunities where improvements can be applied in other areas.

Creating an engaged culture isn’t about challenging people to identify and implement ideas that revolutionize the organization. As soon as leaders start thinking the key to change is big ideas, they create systems that seek to identify the best ideas and kill those which do not provide a sufficient ROI. Rather than engage teams, these systems serve as a filter to curb people’s creativity and puts blinders on their “improvement eyes.” More important, by conditioning people to filter their ideas, leaders limit the organization’s ability to tap into the motivational engine that lies within in every team member.

The key to creating a world-class idea system is spending less time asking the question, “Is this a good idea?” and more time building a system where progress is measured by the implementation of thousands of seemingly inconsequential ideas. Leaders’ primary mission is to create an environment that allows all team members to make progress every day and gives them a way to see the progress they are making. Only then will people fully engage and be motivated to change the organization, one idea at a time.

In the end, if you want teams to engage in change, be accountable for their actions, and take ownership of the outcomes, they need to feel good about themselves and the contribution they are making in the organization. Only when team members are clear about the objectives and able to confidently say, “I am better today than I was yesterday” will the organization begin to tap into their limitless ability to help make themselves, their team, and their process great.

 

Redesigning an Industry Icon

Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally was a runaway winner of the 2010 MarketWatch CEO of the year, easily beating out Steve Jobs, Vikram Pandit, Jeff Bezos and Reed Hastings.  Since the hiring of Mulally in 2006, Ford has been on a roll.  While Ford continued to post financial losses through 2008, the company turned the corner in 2009 and started to reap the benefits of Mulally’s turnaround strategy.  Sales and profits are up, the stock quadrupled in 2009 and doubled again in 2010 and the company has gained market share in back-to-back years for the first time since 1993.  The company even posted its best third quarter profit ($1.7 billion) in over 20 years.

So how did an old aerospace guy with no automotive experience turnaround a struggling industrial icon?  Let’s look at six elements of Mulally’s strategy that have enabled Ford to transform their financial and cultural picture in four short years:

Create a Simple and Compelling Message – By defining a simple, but powerful mission to build higher quality, more fuel efficient, safer cars, Mulally gave Ford’s employees something they craved: a message they could rally around and a vision of a company in which they could believe.  “The more each of us knows what we’re really contributing to, the more motivated and excited and inspired we are.”

Make it About the Long Term – Second, Mulally invested in a long-range plan to create a global design language he called “One Ford.”  The One Ford strategy meant selling off higher profile brands (Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Marton and Volvo), bringing back a completely redesigned Taurus, and designing cars on a global platform.

Exude Contagious Optimism – Mullally understands that his positive energy is contagious.  He exudes an optimism that is both inspiring and credible.  He has an unwavering belief in his team’s plan, balanced by relentless realism about current market conditions, and a willingness to make adjustments along the way.

Develop a Truth Telling Culture – Mulally has created a culture in which telling the truth is paramount and gets rewarded.  As an example, Mulally presides over a weekly “Business Plan Review” where the heads of Ford’s four profit centers and its 12 functional heads report on progress relative to their targets, share problems and collaborate on ideas for improvement.

Be Profitable on Lower Volumes – Under Mulally’s leadership Ford has reduced structural costs by more than $10 billion and will have reduced its production capacity by 40% by the end of next year.  In a drive to be right-sized, Ford now has fewer factories, each producing more vehicles, which has allowed the company to be profitable at near-record-low sales levels.

Create Intimate Customer Relationships – Led by Scott Monty and his talented social media team, Ford has created an extensive online presence committed to creating transparency during the turnaround.  In addition, Monty launched “The Ford Story,” a social media hub which builds intimate customer relationships through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other online communities.

Regardless of your size, industry or business goals, Mulally’s vision and values are equally relevant to every leader responsible for aligning people and driving change.  If you want to dramatically increase your effectiveness and post unprecedented results, “stand for something beyond profit…rally your employees around a shared mission…practice realistic optimism…and tell the truth without fear.”

Visual Problem Solving

Tom Wujec is a Fellow at Autodesk, the world’s leader in 2D & 3D design software.  He has brought several software applications to market, including SketchBook Pro, PortfolioWall, and Maya which won an Academy Award for its contribution to the film industry.  Given Tom’s expertise with technology and software, some might find it surprising to learn that he is also a pioneer in the use of simple, interactive visuals to help teams solve problems.  Using images, sketches, and animations, Tom and his team make complex ideas understandable by making them visible and tangible.

So why should Tom’s work at Autodesk be of interest to you?  As I have written before, neuroscientists have discovered that we don’t actually “see the world as it is.”  Rather, our brain filters the information it receives based on past experiences to create the view of the world we have around us.  As Tom describes it, our brains conduct a “visual interrogation” of everything we see by asking a series of questions and creating a mental model based upon the answers.  The depth and variety of questions our brains ask (where, how, location, number, why, color, when, shape, size, what) is dictated by the richness of the images it encounters.  The richer and more diverse the images, the more of the brain’s three primary regions are utilized in processing the image to create meaning.

Since one of our goals as leaders is to improve the effectiveness of our organizational problem solving, Tom’s work provides us with a couple of interesting lessons:

First, make problem solving more visual.  Rather than merely using data points and words to describe, analyze and solve problems, use images.  Images help the brain clarify ideas, identify underlying patterns of logic, and create meaning.  As opposed to numbers and words, a good visual invites the eyes to dart around and engage the entire brain to create a visual logic and make sense of the information to which it is being exposed.  The more fully the brain is engaged in the act of analyzing and creating meaning, the richer the outcome of the problem solving activities will be.

Second, make your problem solving more interactive.  The act of creating a visual narrative of the problem solving process is critical to the team’s ownership of the problem as well as their engagement in finding a solution.  The more the team creates the visual logic used to tell the story of the problem and what caused it, the more vested they will be in the outcome.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires both engaging people in the process of identifying and solving problems as well as providing them with the tools to do so.  Most traditional approaches to problem solving fail to inspire people and generate creative solutions.  They lack both a visual component to kick the entire brain into action as well as a sufficient level of interactivity to create ownership between the team and the problem.  By challenging teams to use images to identify underlying patterns and create meaning, you just might be surprised at the improvement in both the quality of thought as well as improvement ideas.

Cracking the Code on Engagement

“An experienced code breaker will tell you that in order to figure out what the symbols in a code mean, it is essential to be able to play with them…to rearrange them at will.” – Gero Miesenboeck

The Rosslyn Chapel was founded by William Sinclair in Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland in the mid-15th century.  The chapel stands on fourteen pillars, which form an arcade of twelve pointed arches on three sides of the nave and its architecture is considered to be some of the finest architecture in Scotland.  Among Rosslyn’s intricate carvings are a sequence of 213 cubes protruding from the pillars and arches with geometric patterns on them.  While no interpretation of the patterns has proven conclusive, Tommy and Stuart Mitchell believe the symbols represent pitches and tones which reveal a melodic and harmonic progression.  Thomas Mitchell combined the code breaking skills he learned during the Korean War with a lifetime knowledge of classical music to unlock a piece of music hidden in the chapel’s arches.  After 27 years of study and research using cymatics (a musical system in which patterns are formed by sound waves at specific pitches), the father and son team produced a tone which Stuart calls the Rosslyn Motet.

Mitchell’s success required dedication, careful analysis, and a bit of luck.  Most of all, it required Mitchell and his son to experiment with sand, sound, pitch and patterns.  We too must be prepared to play with a variety of tools and techniques if we are to discover the secrets of motivating people to participate in change.  Like all code breakers, our goal is to identify a “pattern of right behaviors” which will enable leaders to consistently inspire and engage those they lead.  In our attempt to identify the right behaviors, there are three additional skills we need to successfully crack the engagement code.

First, you need patience and perseverance.  Recognizing the pattern of right behaviors takes time and can often feel as if you are making little progress as your brain wrestles with seemingly contradictory information and attempts to rearrange the inputs to identify the pattern.  You may also need to retrace your steps and/or start over when one line of investigation ends with little to no results.

Second, you must have a strong familiarity with the language in which the code is written, so be prepared to become a student of human behavior and spend time in the trenches working with teams implementing change.

Finally, as you begin to learn the language of human behavior, you need to understand its inherent rules.  All languages (including human behavior) contain redundant qualities and patterns of frequency.  Learning how to read these patterns and recognize redundant behavioral trends can help you understand the messages being conveyed and the reasons behind them.

Code breakers approach complex problems with a mix of experience, ingenuity and curiosity.  Blending their knowledge of the code’s language with a structured approach to experimentation, code breakers identify the underlying pattern to crack the code.   By using a similar approach to the problem of engagement, we may finally be able to “crack the code” of motivating people to change their behavior.

Changing How We See Ourselves

Meet Bill Strickland.  He is the President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and delivers educational and cultural opportunities to students and adults within a culture that fosters innovation, creativity, responsibility and integrity.  But perhaps more importantly, “Bill is a genius because he sees the inherent genius in everyone.” – Jeff Skoll (first president of eBay, Founder and Chairman, Skoll Foundation).  Bill uses his ability to spot genius in others and his belief in the power of a vision of hope to transform the lives of thousands of people.

So why am I introducing you to Bill?  In past posts, I have talked about the importance of simple, repeatable processes in creating a culture of continuous improvement.  And while I believe creating and implementing these processes is critical to your success, equal time needs to be spent on the role people play in creating and improving these processes.  Bill is world renown for his ability to inspire others to achieve more than they think is possible and become positive agents for change.  And while Bill’s primary goal is not to engage people in continuous improvement, we can learn a lot from his approach to motivating people to take action and accomplish lofty goals.

Based on Bill’s experience working in inner cities, “you have to change the way people see themselves before you can change their behavior.”  As long as people see themselves as victims of change or inconsequential to the change, they become disengaged and create barriers between themselves and the ideal environment they desperately need and want.  If you want people to break out of current habits, you must first create an expectation of positive results before you can motivate people to undertake the actions necessary to realize the results.  This is a subtle, but important point.  You have to change the way people think about themselves before you can hope to change the way they behave…and if you don’t change the way they behave, you can’t create a culture of continuous improvement.

So how can you start to change the way people think about themselves?

First, by realizing that each of us thinks in pictures and uses these pictures to tell ourselves stories about how the world works.  These stories form a narrative of how I think about my environment and more importantly, my ability to change it.  If you want to change the way people think, you need to change the stories people tell themselves by creating and reinforcing the right pictures in their head.  To help do this, find examples of people in your organization doing great work, creating innovative ideas and inspiring others.  Bring these examples to life with photos, testimonials, and public recognition.  The better you are at promoting these pockets of brilliance, the more successful you will be creating a new story for the organization to tell itself.

Our role as leaders is to create pictures of hope, confidence, purpose, inspiration, and action.  More importantly, our goal is to impart a picture of success and belief that each individual can positively affect their environment through the engagement of their hearts and minds in the process of continuous improvement.  There is nothing more powerful than a person who believes in their ability to influence the future, armed with the skills and tools necessary to do so.