Seek First to Understand

Have you experienced push back as a lean coach?

As a teacher and practitioner of Lean Six Sigma, it seems simple to want to tell the solution, show the way, and in some cases, just do it, because quite frankly it is easier than trying to convince people to come along.

Throughout my career as a lean practitioner,  I have experienced many frustrations. It sometimes seemed hard to understand why leaders just didn’t get it… Why people would get offended when examples from Toyota or other successful implementations were shared. I didn’t understand the push back and quite frankly, I was offended. I would ask myself, ‘Don’t they want to be successful? I’m asking SIMPLE things, why are they making things so DIFFICULT?’ If you’ve found yourself in these similar situations has it ever crossed your mind that many of these frustrations you encounter on the lean journey, are a result of YOU?

I realize there are challenges from leaders, a push to get the numbers and several other major obstacles to overcome on the journey. My objective here is not to dive into tools and techniques, but rather to start with you, the practitioner. It is not my intention to blame you, but rather to encourage you to reflect. We teach others how to improve processes, but often forget to analyze our process of leading lean. I want to share a few things I learned to WIN on the journey.

Throughout life you will read impactful books. The book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has great significance to me. The fifth habit discussed in the book: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” has been very important to my professional growth.

My Story

I remember being in a site where I wanted to start with 5S in a cell that was struggling with productivity and quality. I could clearly see the disarray was part of the issue in the cell. However, the amount of push back I received was very troubling. One would have thought that I were trying to do brain surgery. I thought to myself, ‘WOW, if I can’t implement 5S, my goodness, there is no way they will ever achieve advanced levels or come close to a radical breakthrough’.

Did you notice the language in my thought? “I can’t implement…..they will never…” I was so offended. I was offended because I am normally very good at building rapport and expressing my capabilities. But after reflecting in search of a solution, a way to get them to ‘buy in’, I decided to use the 5 Why approach. Well it only took 3 Why’s for me to realize that I had approached these experts wrong. I was not practicing the very values I taught.

  1. Reflecting: I learned about reflecting after the kaizen, at the end of the A3. But it hadn’t occurred to me to reflect in the P-phase. I had everything all planned out, but didn’t discuss those plan with the cell associates. Nor had I ever considered really intentionally reflecting on my approach, so I could grow, learn and improve.
  2. Humility: I had the opportunity to work with a sensei from Japan for a long period of time. I used to call him an expert, when one day he corrected me. He stated that “he learns everyday. He is not an expert!” While, I hadn’t had this experience at the time of the incident mention above. I learned that I had to humble myself to even reflect on my actions.
  3. Show Respect: In the above-mentioned scenario, I had to step back from the situation and realize the problem was not with the cell associates, but with me. Who was I to come in their sandbox to tell them how to solve their problem? Who’s to say they agree that they have a problem? I had to learn to walk a mile in their shoes, earn their respect and their trust. I needed to show respect.
  4. Teach, Don’t Tell: I had to get over myself. It was not about me showing how much I knew or proving myself. And quite frankly, at that time, I wasn’t seeking buy-in. Folks, I’m being transparent here, I thought it was more important to win. I had to learn how to teach them to see, and then to solve their problems by understanding the tools available to them, and the purpose of such tools. Instead of telling them to start with 5S. I learned how to help them identify the abnormalities within the work cell. Then I asked them if they could see! Next, I would ask them how they would go about making these abnormalities more apparent, which would lead to a true value proposition for implementing 5S.

As a leader and teacher, always seek first to understand and then to be understood. The results implementing this principle are astounding, try it!

Crystal Davis is an experienced business management consultant and leadership development coach with over twenty years of experience in the design, development, and implementation of Lean Business System solutions. She has accumulated extensive domestic and international expertise in the design and implementation of solutions for automotive, healthcare manufacturing, and consumer packaged industries. Crystal has assisted clients in formulating comprehensive business and logistics strategies and in re-engineering distribution and manufacturing operations to reduce costs, improve customer service, quality, on-time deliver and drive revenue.

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