Business process improvement (BPI) is a continuous effort on the part of a company’s leaders to advance and better its core mechanisms of running the company. Learn More
Improving your management skills is a key factor in the success of any business and department. You can’t stand still in today’s business world; to be successful, you not only need to be as good as you possibly can be, you also need to maintain continuous improvement. Learn More
How do you become good at something? Most psychologists agree it’s repetition that makes something easy for us to do and that’s borne out by a study of our brain, which fires neurons in a repetitive way, called habituation.
But when we do something so repetitively that we don’t enjoy it any more, it becomes boring.
Unless we have a particular taste for it, or it keeps our interest. A friend of mine has had the hobby of building model cars for many years. It would bore me to tears, but he absolutely loves it, and cannot wait to get his hands on new model cars to build. Even though he has over 150 already!
What makes it so he can really enjoy that hobby? And how could we become good at something through practice without boring ourselves rigid?
Well, it’s been proved that we can become good at something if:
1) We really want to achieve it
2) We believe we really can achieve it
3) We enjoy trying to achieve it
And that third point is the real biggee!
Most people, when they are trying to improve or develop a skill, really want it and believe they can achieve it. However, if they practice on and on and on, and don’t achieve it, then most start to give up, eventually coming to a halt and leaving it. The trying to do it is the everyday reality of practice. Trying is exactly the opposite of achieving. Trying is actually NOT achieving it.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about research carried out at the Berlin Academy of music. The researchers studied three categories of violin players: the stars, the good performers and those who would end up teaching but not performing.
It turned out that the number one predictor of which category the violinist would fall into was the number of hours they tried and practiced.
The future teachers had practiced up to four thousand hours. The good performer, up to eight thousand hours. And the stars? Each one had practiced over ten thousand hours. According to the author, ten thousand hours was the magical number that people need to practice before they become stars at anything. That equates to over five years of full-time work to become a star. And that’s while learning and practicing along the way.
This means you had better start enjoying something you are practicing. You’ll simply not spend ten thousand hours practicing something you won’t enjoy. Find your passion first. Then practice. You’ll not practice long enough if you don’t enjoy it.
Make sure that you’re persistent in what you enjoy. That way, you’ll enjoy spending the time it will take to master it.
Head of Training
(Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young)
Since Steve Jobs’ sad passing, I have been doing a lot of reading about his style of management, ideas, creativity and concepts. He will always be remembered as a genius in my eyes, and has left a big gap in the world of creativity.
I cam across this quote that is typical of the man, and would like to share it with you.
“It’s not enough to make your offer or performance great, it should be INSANELY great. Incremental improvements over your competition’s offers, or even your own previous offers, don’t cut it. You should shoot for TEN times better.”
To Steve, being outstanding means redefining existing standards of performance, and challenging existing paradigms of best practices. So what do you do if your performance is not currently
superior to everyone and everything else around you? Easy. Decide to deliver outstanding results, and deliver them – starting right NOW!
Think about it. Every opportunity offers a chance to perform in an outstanding manner. No matter what your business, you must be able to engineer your performance so that is PROFOUNDLY superior, thus separating you from everyone in the marketplace. If you are simply just a little better than the competition, you run the risk of being overtaken as they improve faster than you.
In Formula One racing, winning is often measured in hundredth’s of a second. If you are just a few hundredth’s behind someone else in qualifying, you start yards and yards behind them. That could make the difference between being cut up and out of the race at the first corner, or flying away in front of all the trouble.
In business, we don’t measure success in hundredth’s. Steve Jobs was talking about becoming FAR superior than that. If you aim for OUTSTANDING, you may fall slightly short but you will still be better than the rest. And if you become better by far, you create pain for the competition and a future that gets better and better.
So, thank you, Steve. Thank you for giving us all something to aim at. And thank you for showing us a mindset that makes a real difference in the real world.
We had an interesting discussion on a recent training course about how continuous improvement within a department can be supported.
One manager on the course was implementing a Kaizen Programme and his main concern was that the structure of the organisation, and especially his team, might not be supported sufficiently well to implement and maintain a continuous improvement process.
I made some notes and shared it later with the group. Here are my ideas; see if they would work for you.
1) It firstly needs support from top management, with a commitment to providing the resources that drive improvement at all times. Without this commitment, it may be a dead duck before you start.
2) The culture of the team and the whole organisation has to support continuous improvement. If there are any obstacles (people, systems, processes, etc.), you will find it difficult to maintain any
3) The trust levels between everyone involved has to be very high. This means managers have to deliver on their promises to their teams, so everyone is fully committed to changes that have to be made.
4) Continuous support has to be given by management. This would involve facilitating action groups, providing coaching and training, and offering different levels of support at an individual level.
5) Processes of measurement and evaluation have to take place vigorously. Without these, people will not get the necessary feedback to know how the improvement programme is being assessed, and what they can do to support the mechanisms of success.
6) The team must function as a learning hub. The managers have to enable this learning to be applied, so everyone can appreciate what needs to happen to support improvement. Without a learning culture, you will be running through treacle!
7) Each improvement needs some kind of recognition and reward. This doesn’t have to be monetary, but needs to be worthwhile so everyone can see the benefits of applying themselves to providing the
conditions to support continuous improvement.
We discussed that Kaizen should always be a part of the culture, and not seen as a short-term campaign that will fizzle out when attention is placed on something else. Don’t view it as a ‘program’ that we are going through; see it as a ‘way of working’ that everyone can and should subscribe to every day. That way, you encourage support and an attitude of Kaizen that creates a great working environment.
Francis Bacon wrote, “Reading makes a full man” and Emerson wrote, “It’s a good reader that makes a good book”.
Reading is one of the core skills of any good communicator. Our trainers will often ask delegates how many books have they got in their personal library, and they are often surprised by how few books on the subject of management or leadership the delegates have got.
Reading is listening in action, giving you time to give thoughtful attention to what the author is suggesting and helps you remain open to everything that is being offered. It helps your creative juices, because it opens up opportunities you hadn’t considered before.
To decide what your reading requirements are, go to the core of your job; what are you actually paid to do? Then ask yourself:
What must I read to keep up-to-date with current initiatives and ideas within my industry?
What should I read?
What might I read?
An IT consultant, for example, must read certain journals, magazines and books to keep abreast of new developments. They should read certain articles about related fields, like new software developments. They might read items about wider-ranging possibilities, such as the future role of IT in business.
Ask yourself what you need to, or must, read to do your job adequately and to improve in your role. Does your reading list match this? And if you say you don’t have the time, think how much time you spend commuting on the train or in the car. If you travel by train, put the paper down and read an article about your field. If driving to work, hire or buy CDs that relate to your field and listen to them.
What have you read in the last six months that has led to you improving your existing job?
Think of your current job as a short-term contract. As well as fulfilling today’s role, you ought to be thinking about preparing for tomorrow’s job, developing your future capability as well as your current competence. And reading stores of information and ideas is an important element in that process of self-development and self-education.
The only way to lay the foundtion for success in your and your team’s future is by constant commitment to continual learning and development in your field of expertise and beyond.
But how can you encourage all your team to be their best and spend time on this most vital of skill development?
Here are some tips to enable you to be on top of your game and motivate others to share that philosophy too:
1) Encourage your team to value, pursue and utilise knowledge, skills and new technologies: Most of what you learned five years ago is now out of date. If you don’t continually learn new ideas, you fall behind those who do.
2) Take advantage of any in-company training programmes, night classes, university lunch and learns and professional organisations’ educational offerings. Look on their websites to keep aware of what is being offered. Contact your local college and see what new stuff they are teaching, either for free or low-cost.
3) Subscribe to newsletters, magazines, ezines and communications that are in your field. Copy snippets to read later when you have time.
4) Network with affiliates and colleagues in your field and keep them up to date with new ideas in your field, so they will do the same for you.
5) Survey and visit customers to find out current and future needs that your business can supply.
6) Watch your competition for new products and services they are developing so that you are up to speed with what is going on in your industry
7) Borrow, buy or start a library of business and personal development CDs. Share these around the team, learn from them, then have 10 minutes sessions updating each other with what you have learned in your spare time or on your way to work in the car or on the train.
8 ) Become ‘industry-watchers’ so you can, as a team, develop knowledge of the latest developments in your fields, and so share that expertise throughout the department.
There are many ways to become expert in your field, and a commitment to continual learning and development is just the start.
It’s been said that there are three types of people in business: – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who ask “what the heck happened?”!
At the start of each month, it’s a good time to analyse how you want the next month to be, so you can look ahead with control and anticipation, rather than look back with regret.
The start of the month gives you a chance to review what went right last month, what can be corrected, and gives you an opportunity to renew, regroup, recommit and reinvent yourself as a manager and leader.
It’s a process that can renew your energy and rejuvenate your motivation. So, what’s the best way of going about it?
• Spend 30 minutes or so with your monthly calendar. Write down all your deadline dates, when projects are due, important meetings, personal and business appointments, and other important dates. Then, working backwards, estimate how much time you’ll need to prepare for each event or project. Enter the start date on your calendar, and then you’ll have a vision of how you need to work to accomplish the goal.
• Make a plan for your own development this month. Read a professional journal, improve a specific skill, write an item for a newsletter or journal, attend a short seminar or course…anything that will improve your contribution to your own personal and business development.
• Now work to a weekly plan. Set deadlines for next week, so you know what are the urgent things that need doing. Practice efficiencies with paper, e.g. handle each piece of paper only once. Notice when you procrastinate, prepare and be on time for every meeting and become a better delegator.
• A strategy you might want to follow is the OATS formula: Have Objectives written down in priority order, plan Activities that will help you achieve your goals, allow the Time to achieve those goals, and Schedule when is the best time to acco0mplish each goal
• Manage your relationships well this month. Make an effort to ensure every member of your team feels important. Remember the old phrase ‘catch someone doing something right’. Be consistent in the way you lead your team, rather than making it depend on whatever mood you are in, and do just one thing this month that will make your work environment a better place for others to work in. For example, when was the last time you bought some fruit or doughnuts in for your team?
• Make a monthly resolution to do one thing better this month. Then do it again next month. And the next. Slowly but surely, you’ll see the team respond to you and, by setting this example, you encourage all to contribute to the whole business in a positive and motivational way.
All this will mean maintaining a proactive management style, giving you the chance to make a really good impression on higher management and clients.
Let us know how it goes. Be the kind of person who makes things happen; then you won’t have to look back and wonder what the heck happened! Have a great month!
The Kaizen model of continuous improvement originated in Japan and has been used as a management concept for incremental, or gradual/continual, change or improvement. It has been a way of life for Japanese people for centuries and can be applied to key elements of business like quality, effort, employee involvement, change initiatives and communication.
The emphasis is on gradual improvement, built on a foundation of strategic initiatives that create specific and measurable benefits to the business. It’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and is best applied in incremental change situations over the long-term.
How do you get your team to buy in to the Kaizen concept?
Firstly, gain agreement that small changes would be advantageous to the working climate. It will have greater backing if all recognise the need for growth.
Ascertain how you could perform as a team if everyone was willing to commit to improvement. Don’t expect or demand overnight radical change…gain their agreement that small, specific improvements will be easier and more effectively implemented than larger, more global ones.
Decide how the team can measure the effectiveness of any new initiative. This will help gain ownership of any changes that can be made.
Commit to the changes yourself, so you set the example of what’s expected. Team members are more likely to commit if they see you championing the concept.
Create short-term wins that will help the team see successes quickly and frequently. Feedback of these wins will create a motivational environment.
Communicate the results and share the benefits. You’ll cement the commitment and drive the momentum forward to continue.
It’s always going to be easier for someone to aim for a 5% improvement over 3 months, than a 20% improvement over a year, so the Kaizen concept of continuous and frequent improvements will provide you with an easier acceptance level from your team. And that can only be good for morale and confidence!
Personal and professional development is one of the most valuable uses of your time in your career as a manager. It’s only by growing and developing your skills within your current role that you convince others you are worthy of investing in for the future.
So, how much time do you devote to the development of your skills, knowledge and talents? And how regular and consistent are you in carrying it out?
Top managers recognise the need to expand their knowledge about their industry and products regularly. Zig Ziglar says that “Just 15 minutes a day reading books would enable the average reader to complete 15 books each year.”
But there’s so much development material out there, you have to be selective.
First, set aside quality time for this. It’s your career we’re talking about, so it’s worthwhile spending time solely devoted to this important task. A regularly-planned short period is better than leaving it for a large chunk of time once in a while.
Then, be selective in what you choose to read. Determine the areas where you must keep up-to-date, and select only those magazines, journals, books and websites that currently serve your particular areas of need.
When you find an article of interest, especially if it’s in a journal or magazine, take a copy of it or rip it out and put it in your reading file. A fabulous piece buried in a thick magazine will stay buried unless you make a conscious effort to make it more visible.
Consider joining your local Institute of Management library, and taking advantage of the wealth of material available there.
When you’ve spent some time reading, reflect on how you can use this new knowledge in your job and company. Is there something you can immediately apply? Can you share this knowledge with someone else? Is there someone in the organisation who would value this information as much as you?
Spend your commuting time reading or listening to new material that will improve your value to the company. Just 30 minutes listening to a development CD in the car or on your mp3 player on the train each day will give you over 100 hours of learning each year. That’s the equivalent of attending over 14 days’ training each year! Try asking your boss for that much time off to develop your skills! Yet you can easily do it in dead-time on the daily commute.
JJ McCarthy said that an organisation’s continued progress will partly be based on managers’ ability to increase their knowledge and skills and to keep pace with progress and change – through professional literature.
So, lead by example in this. Set the pace for change in your organisation by keeping up to date with reading material that will set you apart from others. Then you will improve your value as a manager, now and in the future.