Listening: A Key to Leadership


Sometimes it is difficult for Managers and Senior Leaders to remember what it was like when they were first starting out, how important it was to gain face time with Senior Leaders.  In my previous blog we discussed going to the place where work actually takes place.   As part of the beginner’s guide to walking the process I recommended that the person walking the process “Speak with every person that handles the item and find out what their roles and responsibilities are in regards to the item”.  Kudos to Dave who posted a comment on Prof. Woolsey of Colo School of Mines who not only observed but interviewed people at every stage of the process.  It is nice to know that the readers are engaged.

In an attempt to continue generating discussion, I am going to list some questions that I have used, or have been recommended for use, as I conduct Process Walks.  Once again, the key is to ask the question and listen objectively.  Let the employee work their way through the answer, sometimes they may solve the problem themselves and begin to take greater ownership of their process.  It can sometimes be difficult not to interject or to give what you know or believe to be the answer but, be patient.  Managing Change is a difficult part of fixing your processes.  However, it becomes much easier when you have a motivated and empowered work force.

Below are some of the key questions that I have accumulated over the years to ask workers along a process.  These are in common use amongst a large majority of the Master Black Belt Practitioners throughout the world.

  • What do you do?
  • Where does your work come from?
  • How do you know what to work on next?
  • How do you determine what to work on first?
  • How do you know what to do on your task?
  • When you’re done where does your work go next?
  • How do you know you’ve done a good job?
  • Do you have any Challenges?
  • How do you know if your task is important?
  • What are your goals?
  • What measures do you use? 
  • What is your cycle time? 
  • How is Quality defined? 
  • Is what you are doing cost effective?
  • How can we help you?

As you walk the process it is equally important to speak with, or “interview”, Sponsors and Supervisors that oversee the work.  This step allows you to ask a few questions and once again listen objectively to their answers.  Do not be surprised if the answers are different from what the employees are saying.  More often than not, communications and proper documentation cause supervisors to feel they are providing clear guidance, which they may be.  However, it is what the employees are hearing and understand that makes the difference.  Below are a few of the key questions that I typically ask Sponsors and Supervisors.

  • What are your keys to success?
  • What are your organization’s goals?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What makes your product or process unique?
  • How do you define great performance?
  • What measures do you use?
  • How is your organization structured?
  • What are the critical issues?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • Do you see any opportunities for improvement?
  • How can we help you?

Walking the process and seeing for yourself is a key to understanding how your organization can improve is one of many keys to continuous improvement.  Likewise, listening to your employees and staff is key to managing change and creating a work force that is capable of identifying and solving problems.  When used in combination, you begin the process of building a culture of Continuous Improvement.  None of this should be new but, it is simple.  Maybe even common sense.

So remember, listen and observe while holding back on making any changes or drawing any conclusions until you have walked your entire process and spoken with your staff.  In my next post I will recommend some tools and techniques for how you can use what you learned on your process walk to start implementing meaningful improvements in your organization.

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1 Comment

Filed under Lean Six Sigma

One response to “Listening: A Key to Leadership

  1. Max

    The Uncommonsensei is right on target. All too often people responsible for resolving an issue get caught up in finding the “quick solution”, forgetting to go back to reassess if the solution is truely the best for the long term solution. Asking these questions of the people who are performing the work and their supervisors, plus relying on “what you see” are critical to implementing sustainable solutions.

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