Budgeting for the Future

Mike Leigh
by Mike Leigh

Fall is a great time of year. The weather is perfect, the NFL season is underway (Go Packers!), and the holidays are around the corner. It is also a good time to review the status of this year’s goals and make that final push to successfully complete them.

Just as importantly, it is time to start looking toward your goals for next year. Consider making a commitment NOW to develop your team in 2022. Our open enrollment leadership classes for next year are scheduled (View the PDF). New for 2022, we will also be offering executive coaching. Our small open classes are perfect if you have a few people you need to train or want to “test drive” our methods. But, we can also come to your team to provide in-house training if you have a greater number of people you are ready to train. For our full line up of leadership development options, please check our our leadership development services page. Make sure your 2022 budget includes investment in your team.

This year, we have also expanded our team to be able to provide additional continuous improvement and manufacturing improvement services. Many organizations, especially manufacturers, are experiencing labor and supply chain shortages. There is widespread need to improve productivity and increase capacity. Are you losing revenue from these limitations? If so, let’s talk. Our team can help.

We look forward to working with your team in 2022!

Your partner in success,

Techniques for Effective Delegation

Mike Leigh
by Mike Leigh, President of OpX Solutions

Effective delegation is not simply giving an employee an unpleasant task. It requires thoughtful planning and training. It also requires an environment conducive to empowered delegation. Below are some considerations to keep in mind to ensure your team is delegating effectively.

Attitude and Culture

Organizational attitudes and culture can sometimes prevent effective delegation. If a leader fears being replaced by a subordinate employee, or a senior manager expects everyone on his or her leadership team to know every small detail of every process, then delegation can be difficult. To help create a more positive attitude and culture towards delegation, try these actions:

  • Think and talk in terms of “we” instead of “me.”
  • Replace the word “failure” with other words such as “mistake” or “learning experience”.
  • Rotate leadership responsibilities for meetings and projects.
  • Develop team trust using frequent and transparent communications.
  • Encourage resourcefulness and creativity. Judge results rather than methods.
  • Develop the self-confidence to delegate without fear or worry of being replaced or unneeded.

Planning and Training

Delegation is not simply transferring the responsibility for performing a task to someone else on the team. A leader must also transfer the authority, resources, rewards, and knowledge necessary to perform it. Once you’ve identified a task to delegate, and a team member to delegate to, consider the following:

Level of Delegation – Depending on the difficulty of the task and the experience of the team member, you must determine the amount of training and freedom to provide. At the lowest delegation level, you will need to provide very specific direction on how to do a task, and only allow action when directed. At the highest delegation level, you will be able to fully empower your team member with the responsibility of the task, and only require routine reports. As you move from the lowest to the highest delegation level, less training and coaching are required, and more authority can be given.

Careful Introduction – Effective delegation always requires adequate communication. Before turning over responsibility, have a conversation with the team member about your plan. You might say, “I’m considering handing-off these responsibilities to someone on our team, perhaps even you, to help us reach our long-term goals. How would you feel about that?” In this non-threatening manner, it allows your team member to express concerns or enthusiasm about the idea, and you will receive their insight and ideas on how to do it.

Action Plan – How do you plan to delegate the task? Without a plan of action that provides time for training and coaching, the team member may struggle. Write down the specific steps that are needed for a successful transition, and schedule time in your calendar for them.

Follow these ideas for effective delegation and your team will become more empowered, more engaged, and more productive!

Why is Change So Hard?

Mike Leigh
by Mike Leigh, President of OpX Solutions

“Those who most resist change are those who are most capable in the current process.” I don’t remember where I first heard this, but it’s true. Think about the last time you tried to implement a process or system change in your organization. Who were the biggest resistors? Isn’t it easier to maintain the status quo?

But consider this quote by George Lichetenberg: “I cannot say things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” There lies the conundrum. Change is disruptive, but necessary for improvement and long-term success.

We are in the change business. We work with organizations to change their processes and change their leadership attitudes and behaviors to be more effective. Everyone wants to change and improve, but only some will attempt it, and many will fall short. A lot has been written about organizational change, but we’ve learned there are a few key elements that must be present for change efforts to be successful.

  • Change must be promoted from the top. There must be a leader who promotes the effort, provides the resources needed, and takes ownership of the results. It’s not enough for a leader to ask for and support change. It must be demanded.
  • There must be focus. You can’t try to change too much at the same time or resources will be spread too thin.
  • Any change effort must be continuously monitored for effectiveness during the first several weeks, and immediate corrections should be made. It can take a few weeks for any unintended consequences to appear, and it usually takes several weeks for new habits to develop.

Too often after an organization implements a process change, all attention moves on to the next project allowing the new process to slide back to the old way. This “fix and forget” method of making improvements rarely results in long-lasting change.

Let’s face it. We humans enjoy our comfort zone. We are most content when we can live by our established habits and behaviors. You can get away with that in your personal lives (although not ideal), but apathy in an organization will kill it. So leaders – consider these key elements and make successful change happen!

This article was previously published in Virginia Business Front Magazine.

Who Makes A Great Leader?

Article by Lois James

Have you ever noticed that a person’s leadership skills are strongly connected with their personality traits? This means that different people have different natural leadership strengths. Many people believe that leaders are born. Others believe that leaders are made through growth opportunities, experience, and training. There is no doubt that some people naturally rise to the top quickly while others hone their skills over years of learned experience. Either way, having leadership soft skills, especially in today’s world, is crucial for being a successful leader. How can you identify your natural leaders? Look for the following:

Initiative: In every culture, there are employees who do what is expected of them and not much more. But, fortunately, there are also employees who naturally step up and take on more responsibility and initiative – the ones who have the potential to be great leaders.

Effective Communication: Someone who practices active, empathetic listening is more likely to be a successful leader. The ability to listen, understand, and give others a voice demonstrates true leadership. Being able to communicate clear messages and expectations and make complex ideas understandable is also a sign of a leader. Effective communication is about both listening and explaining information clearly with all levels of an organization.

Personal Leadership and Motivation: Another crucial skill for effective leadership is being able to not only inspire and motivate others but to inspire and motivate yourself. Before you can lead a team, you have to be able to successfully lead yourself. Most people do not invest enough time and effort into developing themselves – one of the most important things leaders can do. People follow by example, and if leaders set the example of continuously improving themselves and motivating themselves, others will follow.

Strategic Thinking Transformed to Actional Steps: Strategic thinking and turning ideas into action are skills needed on every level. For upper management, developing strategies to take the organization into the next 5 to 10 years is just as important as the entry level and mid-level managers’ ability to understand and carry out those strategies. Great leaders give their team members the flexibility and opportunity for growth when they encourage team members to develop new ideas to accomplish these long-range strategies.

Goal Setting and Tracking: The best way to accomplish short- and long-range strategies is to set, track, and accomplish goals. Someone who plans, sets, and accomplishes goals for themselves and for their teams that are in alignment with company goals is a great example of an effective leader. Once goals are set, efforts must be made to motivate and encourage others to see the value of the goal and to engage everyone in the team in reaching the goal. Great leaders accomplish more measurable results and profitability for the organization when they set and accomplish goals that include their team’s buy-in and commitment.

Employees who show the potential to be great leaders often already have some of these leadership skills and only need encouragement and support from upper management to sharpen them. But leaders at all levels should be striving to continuously improve their leadership skills. At OpX Solutions, we help individuals and organizations sharpen the many leadership skills necessary to be successful both professionally and personally. We provide a system that helps people set goals and accomplish them by focusing on high payoff activities. Being more efficient, effective, motivational, and profitable exemplifies a great leader. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help your leaders excel: www.OpXSolutionsllc.com.

This article was published in  Valley Business FRONT, Issue 147, December 2020. Top Photo: Lois James facilitating at EZ Rampz Mobility Solutions in Roanoke, VA.

Are You Helping Your Team Members Develop Their Potential?

The organizational climate has a direct impact on your people. In an atmosphere designed to reinforce productivity, tension and fear are at a minimum and people feel free to use their full potential for creativity and achievement. As a leader, you bear the primary responsibility for establishing the climate in your organization, department, or work group. Give people the freedom to be who they are and encourage them to become all their potential allows.

At the heart of a positive motivational climate is open, constructive communication. To maximize its effectiveness, remember that communication is always a two-way street. Listen to your people. Listen with your ears, your eyes, and your emotions. Not only do you discover the personal needs that motivate people, you benefit from hearing their valuable ideas. When you listen to people, they feel comfortable about sharing ideas and information.

Another important factor in establishing a motivational climate lies in your attitude toward mistakes and failures. When you constantly encourage your people to accept new responsibilities, to risk personal growth, and to increase their productivity, it is inevitable that they will make some mistakes, miss some goals, or make an occasional bad decision. If they never make mistakes, they are not trying anything new; they are merely going around and around in the same old rut. When mistakes occur or obstacles arise, choose to coach—not punish—the person involved. Use setbacks or missed goals as opportunities to teach better methods, improved thinking, and more effective procedures. Then allow time and opportunity for the team member to adjust and to restore the work to schedule. The benefits of this approach are unlimited:

• The needed correction is made

• The team member learns and grows

• You gain the respect and loyalty of the individual concerned

• The person you coach gains stature and increased competence

Establishing and maintaining a motivational climate in the workplace requires a great deal of sensitivity to individual differences and a great deal of creativity in structuring work assignments to maximize overall productivity. Because individual needs differ, how you lead people must differ. At the same time, the necessary procedures connected with the organization’s needs must be met, and the difference in the way you lead people must avoid any appearance of preferential treatment. Carefully consider these factors:

Structure and freedom. Some of your people are highly structured. They want to do things “by the book.” They want an explicit process to follow in every situation because this helps them feel safe. Give them training that makes it possible to do their jobs accurately and promptly, but do not burden them with the responsibility for making decisions in unusual situations. They will follow your instructions to the letter with a minimum of supervision. Others, however, like more freedom to devise their own work plan; they want to feel that their judgment is trusted and that they are free to exercise initiative. 

Creativity and conformity. It is to your advantage to encourage team members to use as much of their creativity as possible as long as it is focused narrowly on productivity.  Your responsibility is to direct creativity toward appropriate targets and demand conformity in the type of situations where no deviation can be tolerated. The ethical policies of the organization, for example, are so vital to its existence that conformity must be maintained.  No “creative” deviations can be allowed. Safety regulations must be followed to the letter. But many other areas easily lend themselves to experiment.

Encourage your people to grow and to develop. When one person in the organization grows, the whole organization benefits. Express approval of their efforts and praise their successes. Structure the organizational climate to make growth as easy as possible and to make it popular. Set the example by following your own program of personal growth and development. Some of your people will catch your enthusiasm and begin to use even more of their potential for success and achievement.

This article was originally published in The Total Leader Journal, for Leadership Management® International, Inc. by Rutherford Communications.

Women Leaders in Manufacturing

Lois James headshot
By Lois James

What do you think of when you hear the word “manufacturing”? When you hear the words “women in manufacturing”? When you hear the words “women in leadership in manufacturing”? If that makes you stop and think, good.

I recently attended a conference in Southwest Virginia geared towards women in manufacturing, and there were well over 200 women in attendance. The speakers at this conference all echoed one important fact: get the word out to women at an early age to consider manufacturing as a career choice.

Sherrika Sanders was with Dow Chemical for 9 years where she created a recruiting program to attract women to manufacturing at an early age. Sherrika was introduced to STEM and modern manufacturing at a high school science camp that “sealed the deal” for her career choice. Sherrika is an advocate for introducing middle and high school aged girls to opportunities in the manufacturing industry. We need to stop thinking of manufacturing jobs as male only jobs on a factory floor. Career paths in manufacturing include engineering, information technology, human resources, management, journalism, and so many others. Peggy Gulick, Director Digital Transformation, Global Manufacturing at AGCO, sums it up well by explaining her passion for her chosen career in manufacturing, “If working with wearables, drones, 3D printing, robots and autonomous vehicles is not enough, in the end, I get to make things.”

Another push to attract women to the manufacturing industry is to highlight successful women who young women can look up to. For example, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, leads a global business that has no gender pay gap according to the 2018 Global Report on Gender Equality. Marillyn Hewson, Chairman, President, & CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, has positioned the company as a leader in the aerospace, security, and technology industries.Allison Grealis, the founder of the nonprofit trade association Women in Manufacturing, asserts, “It’s important to note that not only is manufacturing good for women, but women are also good for manufacturing.” She explains that there is a significant skills gap in the manufacturing industry, and we need to look to women to help fill that gap to stay viable. Women currently only make up about 29% of the manufacturing workforce, so there are tremendous opportunities for women to be successful in this industry. Allison continues, “research tells us that when companies are more diverse, and when there are more women at the leadership table, those companies are more profitable.”

As work organizations diversify, the manufacturing sector holds the greatest opportunity for women to add value. So, the next time you hear the words “women in leadership in manufacturing”, I hope you think of incredibly talented women who are dedicated to their careers and industry and who bring knowledge, creativity and success to the manufacturing world.

Kaizen Events: The 4 Outcomes You Should Actually Care About

By Beatrice Castellani

Also known as Rapid Improvement Teams or Kaizen Blitz, Kaizen Events are one of the activities that American companies love to organize when they need to tackle a specific problem. They are structured, and dedicated team projects to improve a specific performance or area.

Although these events often lead to measurable results, such as improvement in Safety, Quality, Cycle time/Lead time, and Costs, the most desirable outcomes are of a different nature: Kaizen Events should be considered, above everything else, learning events.

Here the 4 personnel outcomes you should shoot for the next time you organize a Kaizen Event:

  1. Engagement
    Don’t ever do a Kaizen Event to the people, do a Kaizen Event with the people. A Kaizen Event should include all the resources directly involved in the process. It’s a great occasion to listen to the problems that the workers are facing every day and to let them be the protagonists of the change. Note: if someone asks you to address any problem or to listen to any idea during this time, don’t forget to follow up with them and answer their questions. Even if there’s no good news, you want them to know that you cared about their request. This is absolutely critical in order to build a positive relationship based on trust.

  2. Ownership
    An employee that feels heard and that understands what he/she is measured against is an employee that cares about the activities he/she does every day and that can be held accountable. A Kaizen Event should bring the Key Performance Indicators closer to the activities and enable the workers to own them: teach how to read the KPIs and how the physical changes to the process impact them so that the workers will know how what they do influences the numbers.
  1. Training
    Regardless of the improvement’s focus, a Kaizen Event is the perfect occasion to teach the team how to look at the processes with curiosity and letting go of any judgment about the intentions of who is working on them. As easy as it sounds, this is a big shift for a lot of companies and will make an incredible difference in the way people approach problem-solving.  Also, this is a great opportunity to teach Lean tools and methods.

  2. Culture
    What you ultimately want to accomplish with the repetition of multiple Kaizen Events is the creation, through spaced repetition, of new mental thoughts and attitudes that will eventually lead to positive and creative behaviors. In order to do that, everything you say and do should reinforce the positive beliefs a Lean Culture is based on.

Not sure if your resources have the right mentality for a Lean Transformation?  Want to discover more about what positive beliefs and norms are in a Lean Culture? Contact us for a Lean Culture Assessment.

Is Your Organization Green and Growing, or Ripe and Rotting?

By Mike Leigh

Early in my career of helping organizations improve their operations, I learned that all organizations are either “green and growing, or ripe and rotting”.  There is no in between.  In today’s competitive environment, an organization must continuously strive to improve, or risk falling behind the competition.

Almost every organization will take action to improve performance when it is convenient or if their operations are struggling.  But are you willing to implement change even when it’s not?

Twice in his career when he was dominating the competition, Tiger Woods completely revamped his golf swing.  Most people would have never changed what was working, but by doing so Tiger remained the #1 golfer in the world in 11 of 12 straight years.  He was never content with his performance, and he always strived for improvement.

I assume if you are reading this article, you probably want to improve your operations.  If so, pursue these two core principles of continuous improvement.

First, embrace innovation and change.  Eliminate apathy in your organization.  Create a culture where it is ok to try and fail, but it’s not ok to not try.  Solicit ideas from your team, and reward their efforts.  And most importantly, lead the effort from the front lines.  Join your team in their improvement efforts.  Change won’t happen by edict from your office.

Second, you must dedicate time, money and talent to your improvement efforts.  Look at your calendar.  How much time have you scheduled to improve processes or develop your people?  Look at your budget.  How much money have you set aside for improvement initiatives?  Look at your team.  Who do you have working on your continuous improvement goals?

One company I work with provides a free international trip annually to one employee who has submitted at least one improvement idea in the past year.  What are you going to do to keep your business green and growing?  

What Are Your High Payoff Activities?

by Mike Leigh

Would you like to improve your effectiveness?  Do this quick exercise.  Write down five activities that would have a significant positive impact on your personal and professional goals if you spent more time on them.  Some examples might be developing your team, meeting with clients, or spending time with your kids.

Now look at your calendar for the next week.  How much time have you scheduled for these activities?  These are called High Payoff Activities (HPAs), and they are the key to personal and organizational effectiveness success.  Unfortunately, if you are like most professionals, you’ve probably scheduled little or no time for your HPAs.  Most of us spend the majority of our time in meetings, putting out fires, handling interruptions, or simply reacting to whatever comes our way.

To improve the effectiveness of you and your organization, these HPAs must be clearly defined, and time must be scheduled for them.  In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, the author describes a matrix with four quadrants into which all activities fall.  He explains why it is necessary to spend more time on Quadrant II activities (important but not urgent) which includes HPAs.   Since these items are not urgent, we tend to put them off until later, or reschedule them when something more urgent interrupts us.

Redirecting more time to HPAs first requires saying NO to unimportant tasks.  Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Decline meetings.  Look at your calendar and decline every meeting that is not important to you or your work responsibilities.  In its place, schedule time in your calendar to work on a HPA.
  • Shut your door.  Many organizations with “open door” policies want their leaders to literally keep an open door.  This invites interruptions at any time.  Instead, close your door, turn off email notifications, and shut off your cell phone during the HPA time you have scheduled.  Deal only with real emergencies during this HPA time.
  • Close your email.  Email is a huge time-waster in many organizations.  Close your email during the portion of the day when you are most productive.  It will help you stay focused on important tasks and not get sidetracked by unimportant, but seemingly urgent email correspondence.

The best part is that even a small amount of time redirected to your HPAs can have a huge impact on your success.  Redirecting just one hour per day is equivalent to gaining six weeks of productive time each year!  By dedicating more time to your HPAs, you and your organization will be more effective and experience greater success.

Why “Lean-Lennials” Will Help Your Company Thrive and Improve Your Life

By Beatrice Castellani

My very first working day in the United States started with a conference about Millennials: it was October 2018 and several local companies gathered in order to discuss how to retain and motivate this generation of people that is rejecting the status quo.

Being a 27-year-old process improvement consultant, I quickly discovered that the conference would turn out to be the first of several conversations on the topic. I found that every time a company struggled with finding the root cause of a problem, or every time that understanding the process required too much effort, or that change got too hard, someone took out the scapegoat: “the problem is that those Millennials don’t care about anything they do.”

There’s nothing strange about this kind of reaction: we all tend to search for “easy” answers to solve complex problems: they make us feel safer and more comfortable in our beliefs. But the truth is that generational change is inevitable and it’s time to act before this comprehension gap becomes unbridgeable, with severe consequences on the ability of companies to perform.

So, I asked myself, “How? What can companies do to become desirable workplaces for Millennials like me, and use the peculiarities of this new generation as a leverage to thrive? Do we need a new theory or concept?”

Well, the good news is that, in my Millennial opinion, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. The Lean thinking approach already encompasses everything we need to know. The key is (and has always been) one thing: stop focusing on the single tools and start taking your cultural environment serious.

What Millennials are doing with your company culture is exactly what a Lean approach should be doing with your company processes: they are making everything more fragile in order to force change. With their impatience and their need for constant improvement, they are lowering the water level and making all the rocks in the pond come to the surface.

If big inventories are hiding your process issues and preventing you from finding improvement ideas, the established generations and their unconditioned devotion to the workplace may have been hiding the need for a better work-life balance, the necessity to feel a purpose in life, the precious value of our short time on Earth.

So here some tips that come from the approaches we already know, that will help you retain and motivate not only Millennials but your entire team.

Start With Why: As Simon Sinek explained in his book, Start With Why, great leaders inspire. If you want a team to feel motivated and excited, you must give them a purpose: a reason why what they’re doing is important – not just for them, not just for the investors, but for the world. There are very few products or services that the customers choose because they are objectively so different in terms of performance or price from everything else. Great companies can retain customers because they give them so much more: they give them something to believe in. Do you know why your customers keep buying your product? If you don’t know that, chances are that you also don’t know why your employees are working for you. And just as you will lose some customers that only bought your product because it was cheaper than another one, you will lose some of your employees because they found a company that simply pays more.

Become Flexible About Time and Focus On Results: There are no metrics in Lean that consider the hours at work as a goal. Making the customer happy is a goal. Improving your service level is a goal. Meeting project deadlines and the budget is a goal. Being at work eight hours a day is not. This does not necessarily mean that you will be able to work less hours, but there’s a very important mentality shift that needs to happen. A Millennial will understand the necessity of working overtime to meet a deadline or help a customer but won’t see the need of spending eight hours working on something that can be completed in seven.

Use Rapid Feedback Approaches: Younger generations want to understand the purpose of a project and be able to face the challenges that present along the way one at a time and with creativity. This keeps them more engaged than asking them to blindly follow a plan. Rapid feedback cycles will allow your project to move along quicker and smarter and will better motivate your younger employees.

Let Them Question the Status Quo and Use Their Impatience Smartly! Making things run smoother motivates Millennials and provides them job satisfaction because they are annoyed by bureaucracy and clunky processes and feel fulfilled by eliminating it. Because of this, nobody is going to be a better waste-hunter than a Millennial!

Embracing the challenge of making Millennials happy is going to boost your ability to problem solve, innovate, and keep up with the inevitable need to change.


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