Being a Quality Salesperson

A core function of quality leadership is building the case of quality and raising the level of awareness and adoption through the organization. As we work to mature our quality system we build commitment. This is the salesperson aspect of our role where we go out and sell quality and the improvements we are advocating for.

Understand what the customer is buying

You first need to understand what the customer is buying. A person selling a food processor is really selling the ability to easily make tasty food. A person selling a car is selling a whole lot of cultural assumptions about mobility, and power, and the dream of success. Similarly, our stakeholders are not buying specific quality methodologies and tools (e.g. process management, knowledge management, risk management), they are buying something wider, which quality methodologies can deliver to them, and you need to understand what that is. Two of the more wider things that the customer wants that quality usually promises are protection and opportunity.

Quality at heart offers protection against deficiencies and risks. Quality protects against loss of capability.

Quality is also an opportunity – gaining more value from our resources.

Segmenting your audience

Every salesperson needs to know their market and their customer base which we can think of in terms of three market segments:

  • Those who ‘get’ the quality improvement and become immediately enthused, moving rapidly from first contact to positive perception and trial. These are your allies, supporters, and early adopters.
  • The folks who just do not care about maturing quality. They will engage with quality if they must, if it is part of the job, or if everyone ese is doing it. If the improvement is voluntary, or unusual, they will not bother. Moving them to the trial phase of buy-in will require a range of influencing tactics.
  •  Those who do not like quality, seeing it as a threat to their way of working, or even as a personal threat. These people will resist everything unless it is embedded into the very structure of the organization. They can be exceedingly difficult to move to the positive perception state, let alone higher than that. Here your primary tools are peer pressure, social proof, appeals to authority and compulsion.

Think through the types of quality initiatives you are working on. Those that are voluntary will only reach the first third, and that is the best place to start. Or you need more inescapable methods. I usually find for any set of improvements it is a mixture of experiment with early adopters, build social proof and introduce a few critical compulsions.

Influencing Tactics

In their book Mind Gym Sebastian Bailey and Octavius Black outlined nine influencing tactics you can select from, based on the character and situation of the ‘buyer’.

To add context to these, I am going to provide an example of implementing Gemba Walks for leaders, managers, and floor level employees, with standard work that emphasizes pushing to a learning culture.

TacticIncludesExample
ReasoningUsing logical argument to make a case. Reasoning is necessary to support your case with all stakeholder, even if other influencing techniques will create the closing sell. You need to create a compelling logical case for quality improvement, and it needs to be a case for the individual was well as the company.Presenting  case studies and evidence on how this is successful.
InspiringAppealing to emotions and creating the vision. Inspiring people generates an emotional commitment to the vision. Being inspiring demands conviction, energy and passion but is especially effective with the early adopters.A vision of a gemba walk being the hallmark of quality culture and building a culture of inclusivity.
Asking questionsLeading the other person to make their own discovery of the value of the quality improvement.Drawing out examples of an individuals own experience of the value of observation and good coaching.
Ingratiating(Be a buddy)Your stakeholder will almost feel positive toward someone who makes them feel good about themselves.   This is not a great approach for people more senior than you, it comes across as sucking up. You also need to be sincere – people always detect insincerity.Friends helping friends get things done
Deal makingWhen you give another person something in return for their agreement with you. Your ability to use this approach depends very much on your confidence and ability to offer something in return. To keep trust, make sure you deliver on any promises made.Through introducing the Gemba walk we will see a reduction of human error deviations and we will be able to close minor deviations in three days.
Favor askingSimply asking for something because you want or need it. This works well only when the other person cares about you or their relationship with you. If used sparingly, it is hard to resist, but be prepared to pay back that favor!If you can support the Gemba Walk, then we will be able to free up the time for that important project of yours as a result.
Using silent allies (aka social proof)Using the fact that others are getting value from the quality improvement as an argument in its favor. Social proof is sharing the stories of people as like your ‘buyer’ as possible. This really gets to that big middle of uncertain individuals.   Each success, no matter how small, is an opportunity to gather social proof. Hold lessons learned, don’t be afraid to capture good feedback on video!Listen to Nancy here as she discusses how much Gemba Walks have changed the work in her team.
Invoking authorityAppealing to a rule is one you use late in the roll-out program to convince the laggards once the quality improvement has become a clear expectation.Your boss tells you to do Gemba Walks and enforces them happening (report a metric of how many Gemba Walks)
Forcing (“do it or else”)Bringing senior management in to demonstrate clear requirements with clear ramifications that can include temporary or permanent removal of the individual. This is a tactic of last resort.Do this or else
Influence Tactics
Influencing Tactics per Implementation Phase

Be prepared to spend a lot of time in “Yes…but…and” territory, especially in the Strategy Phase.

Psychological Safety, Reflexivity and Problem Solving

Psychological safety enables individuals to behave authentically, take risks and express themselves candidly. In the workplace, psychological safety captures how comfortable employees feel as team members. Timothy Clark gives four elements of psychological safety:

  • Being included
  • Feeling safe to experiment
  • Contributing
  • Challenging the status quo

This is done through four pillars:

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety, Reflexivity and a Learning Culture

Reflexivity is the extent employees reflect upon the work tasks they have completed and identify ways of improving performance – it is the information-processing activity. Using reflexivity, employees develop a better sense of what is done, why and how, and can adjust their behaviors and actions accordingly. Reflexivity is a powerful process that can drive performance in a learning culture that  requires psychological safety to flourish. When employees reflect upon their work tasks, they need to have a deeper and better understanding of what they have done, what was done well and not as well, why they engaged in these behaviors, and changes and adaptations needed to result in better performance. People are not likely to engage in reflexivity unless they feel psychologically safe to take interpersonal risks, speak up, and admit failures without feeling uncomfortable or fearful of status and image loss.

Psychological Safety is the magic glue that makes transformative learning possible. Psychological Safety and reflexivity enables a problem solving culture.

Bibliography

Clark, T.R. 2020. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. Oakland, CA: Barrett-Koehler

Edmondson, A. 2018. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons

West, M.A. 1996. Reflexivity and work group effectiveness: A conceptual integration. In M.A. West (Ed.), Handbook of work group psychology. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Zak, P.J. 2018. “The Neuroscience of High-Trust Organizations.” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 70(1): 45-48

Building a learning culture

Our organizations are either growing or they’re dying. The key thing that drives growth in organizations is when their employees are learning. To strengthen our organizations, our teams, ourselves we need to ensure our culture allows people to be exposed to new and challenging opportunities to learn.

We learn constantly. Most of that learning, however, is incremental, improvements that build on what we already know and do. We expand our knowledge and refine our skills in ways that strengthen our identities and commitments. This process sharpens competence and broadens expertise, and is key in building subject matter experts.

Incremental learning can allow people to grow in a workplace until they reach the limit on their resources for new learning – think of it as an S-curve. Eventually, there isn’t enough opportunities to learn. Furthermore, learning that broadens our expertise is valuable, but it is not enough. Incremental learning does not alter the way we see others, the world, and ourselves.

The second type of learning is called transformative, it changes our perspectives laying the foundations for growth and innovative leaps.

Both kinds of learning are necessary. Incremental learning helps us deliver, while transformative learning helps us develop. Both are necessary, but too often we allow incremental learning to be haphazard and make no space for transformative learning.

In both cases we need to build spaces to drive learning.

We often see incremental in our training programs, while transformative is critical for culture building.

Incremental LearningTransformative Learning
Good forKnowledge and SkillsPurpose and Presence
Source of LearningExperts (models)Experience (moments)
Work requiredDeliberate PracticeReflective engagement
Aim of processNew action (a better way)New meaning (a better why)
Role of othersFocusing practiceInviting Interpretation
Key aspects of the two styles

Bibliography

References

  • Bersin. (2018, July 08). A new paradigm for corporate training: Learning in the flow of work. Retrieved December 31, 2019, from https://joshbersin.com/2018/06/a-new-paradigm-for-corporate-training-learning-in-the-flow-of-work/
  • Boyatzis E., & Akrivou, K. (2006). The ideal self as the driver of intentional change. Journal of Management Development, 25(7), 624-642. doi:10.1108/02621710610678454
  • Brown D., & Starkey, K. (2000). Organizational identity and learning: A psychodynamic perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 102. doi:10.2307/259265
  • Hoffman, R., Yeh, C., & Casnocha, B. (2019). Learn from people, not classes. Harvard Business Review, 97(3). Retrieved December 31, 2019, from https://hbr.org/2019/03/educating-the-next-generation-of-leaders
  • Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Petriglieri, G., Petriglieri, J. L., & Wood, J. D. (2017). Fast tracks and Inner Journeys: Crafting Portable selves for contemporary careers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 63(3), 479-525. doi:10.1177/0001839217720930

The Walk of the Gemba

What is a “Gemba” – a slight rant

Gemba, as a term, is here to stay. We’re told that gemba comes from the Japanese for “the actual place”, and people who know more than me say it probably should translate as “Genba” but phonetically it uses an “m” instead and as a result, it’s commonly referred to as gemba – so that’s how it is used. Someday I’ll see a good linguistic study of loan words in quality circles, and I have been known to fight against some of the “buzz-terminess” of adoption of words from Japanese. But gemba is a term that seems to have settled in, and heck, English is a borrowing language.

Just don’t subject me to anymore hour long talks about how we’re all doing lean wrong because we misunderstood a Japanese written character (I can assure you I don’t know any Japanese written characters). The Lean practitioner community sometimes reminds me of 80s Ninja movies, and can be problematic in all the same ways – you start with Enter the Ninja and before long its Remo Williams baby!

So lets pretend that gemba is an English word now, we’ve borrowed it and it means “where the work happens.” It also seems to be a noun and a verb.

And if you know any good studies on the heady blend of Japanophobia mixed with Japanophilia from the 80s and 90s that saturated quality and management thinking, send them my way.

The Importance of the Gemba Walk

Gemba is a principle from the lean methodology that says “go and see” something happening for real – you need to go and see how the process really works. This principle rightly belongs as one of the center points of quality thinking. This may be fighting words but I think it is the strongest of the principles from Lean because of the straightforward “no duh” of the concept. Any quality idea that feels so straightforward and radical at the same time is powerful.

You can think of a gemba through the PDCA lifecycle -You plan, you do it, you decide on the learnings, you follow through.

Gemba seen through the PDCA lense

This is all about building a shared understanding of problems we all face together by:

  1. Observation of specific issues where things don’t go as intended, listening to the people who do the work.
  2. Discussion of what those issues mean both in the details of operations but also on a wider strategic level.
  3. Commitment to problem solving in order to investigate further – not to fix the issue but to have the time to delve deeper. The assumption is that if people understand better what they do, they perform better at every aspects of their job

Gemba walks demonstrate visible commitment from the leadership to all members of the
organization. They allow leadership to spread clear messages using open and honest
dialogue and get a real indication of the progress of behavioral change at all levels. They
empower employees because their contributions to site results are recognized and their
ideas for continuous improvements heard.

Conducting a Successful Gemba Walk

Elements of a Successful Gemba

Plan Effectively
Define your goalWhat is it that you want to do a gemba walk for? What do you hope to find out? What would make this activity a success? A successful walk stresses discovery.
Set a scopeWhich areas will you observe? A specific process? Team? This will allow you to zoom into more detail and get the most out of the activity.
Set a themeWhat challenges or topics will you focus on? Specific and targeted gemba walks are the most effective. For example, having a emba focusing on Data Integrity, or area clearance or error reduction.

Picking the right challenge is critical. Workplaces are complex and confusing, a gemba walk can help find concrete problems and drive improvement linked to strategy.
Find additional viewpointsWho else can help you? Who could add a “fresh pair of eyes” to see the big questions that are left un-asked. Finding additional people to support will result in a richer output and can get buy in from your stakeholders.
Get supportBring visibility and sponsorship for your gemba. Ensure all stakeholders are aware and on board.
Plan the Logistics
Identify Suitable TimeFind a suitable time from the process’ perspective. Be sure to also consider times of day, days of the week and any other time-based variations that occur in the process.
Find right locationWhere should you see the process? Also, do you need to consider visiting multiple sites or areas?
Map what you’ll seeDefine the process steps that you expect to see.
Build an agendaWhat parts of the process will you see in what order? Are there any time sensitive processes to observe?
Share that agendaSharing your agenda to get help from the operational owner and other subject matter experts.
Doing the Gemba Walk
Explain what you are doingPut people at ease when you’re observing the process.

When you are on the walk you need to challenge in a productive yet safe manner to create a place where everyone feels they’ve learned something useful and problems can be resolved. It pays to communicate both the purpose and overall approach by explaining the why, the who, and the when.
Use your agendaKeep some flexibility but also make sure to cover everything.
Ask open questionsOpen discussion and explore the process challenges.
Ask closed questionsUse this to check your understanding of the process.
Capture reality with notesTake notes as soon as possible to make sure you recall the reality of the situation.
CoachAs a coach, your objective is not to obtain results – that’s the person you’re coaching’s role – but to keep them striving to improve. Take a step back and focus on dismantling barriers.
What did you learnWhat did you expect to see but didn’t? Also, what did you not expect to happen?

The ask questions, coach, learn aspect can be summarized as:
  1. Visualize the ideal performance with your inner eye

  2. Spot the specific difficulty the person is having (they’ll tell you – just listen)

  3. Explain that (though sometimes they won’t want to hear it)

  4. Spell out a simple exercise to practice overcoming the difficulty.
After the Gemba Walk
What did you learn?Were challenges widespread or just one offs? Review challenges with a critical eye. The best way I’ve heard this explained is “helicopter” thinking – start n a very detailed operational point and ascend to the big picture and then return to the ground.
Resolve challenges with a critical eyeDefine next steps and agree which are highest priority. It is a good outcome when what is observed on the gemba walk leads to a project that can transform the organization.
Take actionFollow-through on the agreed upon actions. Make them visible. In order to avoid being seen only as a critic you need to contribute firsthand.
Hold yourself to accountShare your recommendations with others. Engage in knowledge management and ensure actions are complete and effective.
Key points for executing a successful GEMBA

Gemba Walks as Standard Work

You can standardize a lot of the preparation of a gemba walk by creating standard work. I’ve seen this successfully done for data integrity, safety, material management and other topics.

Build a frequency, and make sure they are often, and then hold leaders accountable.

WhoBest Practice FrequencyMinimum Recommended Frequency
First line supervisorsEach shift, multiple timesEach shift
Team leaders in individual unitsDaily covering different shifts2 per week
Unit/Department heads1 per day1 per week
Leadership team1 per day1 per month
Internal customers and support (e.g. purchasing, finance, HR)1 per month1 per quarter
Frequency recommendation example

Going to the Gemba for a Deviation and Root Cause Analysis

These same principles can apply to golden-hour deviation triage and root cause analysis. This form of gemba means bringin together a cross-functional team meeting that is assembled where a potential deviation event occurred. Going to the gemba and “freezing the scene” as close as possible to the time the event occurred will yield valuable clues about the environment that existed at the time – and fresher memories will provide higher quality interviews. This gemba has specific objectives:

  • Obtain a common understanding of the event: what happened, when and where it happened, who observed it, who was involved – all the facts surrounding the event. Is it a deviation?
  • Clearly describe actions taken, or that need to be taken, to contain impact from the event: product quarantine, physical or mechanical interventions, management or regulatory notifications, etc.
  • Interview involved operators: ask open-ended questions, like how the event unfolded or was discovered, from their perspective, or how the event could have been prevented, in their opinion – insights from personnel experienced with the process can prove invaluable during an investigation.

You will gain plenty of investigational leads from your observations and interviews at the gemba – which documents to review, which personnel to interview, which equipment history to inspect, and more. The gemba is such an invaluable experience that, for many minor events, root cause and CAPA can be determined fairly easily from information gathered solely at the gemba.