Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Lean Staff Meeting Micro-experiment

The Lean philosophy is built largely around the concept of problem solving and continuous improvement (kaizen) by involving the workers who do the work on the floor (gemba) day in and day out. The idea is to foster and coach (working together) problem solving with them (bottom up), rather than telling them what to do and how (top down). Kaizen is the essence of what we strive for when we build teams or imagine when we use the term “teamwork”. 

The results of all of this are:

  1. Many vs. a few minds working to solve the problem.
  2. Identifying more problems.
  3. Better determination of the root cause(s) of the problem(s).
  4. Fosters the Lean concept of a leader/manager being a teacher as well as a supervisor in problem solving.
  5. Shifts some of the frustration of management off our "plate" (without losing responsibility).
  6. By involving staff in this process, it shows that we value and respect their input.
  7. Engages staff in the practice.
  8. Increases their value to the practice. Their value appreciates over time.

So, with all of this in mind, try this micro-experiment with your employees (team) at your next staff meeting by taking a more Socratic approach to problem solving (teaching through questioning rather than lecturing).

The Micro-Experiment

  • Chose or a elicit a small, non-crisis problem to work on.
  • Communicate that this is a safe environment and a "Judgement free zone.” Everyone is intelligent and has ideas to contribute.
  • Place three coins in front of you. You are allowed three declarative statements during the staff meeting. If you make such a statement, then remove a coin. All other statements need to be in the form of open-ended questions.
  • Think in terms of system failures, not people failures.
  • Ask lots of “Why?”s, “How?”s and “What makes you say/think that?”s, not “Who (is to blame)?”s
  • No leading questions like “Don't you think it would be better to do _______?” You are not trying to 'manipulate' them into arriving at a solution you've already decided on or simply making it seem like they are participating. This is truly listening to their ideas and honestly involving them in finding possible solutions through concensus (nemawashi).
  • Praise participation.

Remember back to when you were learning how to diagnose and what questions to ask and how? Formulating a list of deferential diagnoses and, then, trying to arrive at a definitive diagnosis. It is basically the same process that you are trying to teach your staff about, except instead of a pet with a problem, we are dealing with a practice system, process, flow, and/or communication problem.

It won't work perfectly the first time. This is completely different than how most staff meetings are conducted. Look for small successes and then build upon them. With enough coaching and practicing, one day your staff may identify a problem, find its root cause and decide, together, on a viable solution to try, collect the results and plan the next step with little more than oversight involvement from you. Can I get a “Hallelujah!”?

Let me know how it went. Did your staff surprise you with their deep understanding of the issues? Were they more creative than you expected? Did they have a more realistic perception of the actual problem and root causes than you? How difficult was it for you to teach by asking questions? What did you learn? What would you change the next time? Could you cut back to two coins? One?

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends, staff and colleagues about the blog. Comments and questions always appreciated.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What! No Research and Development Department!?!

Many of the major corporations in the world have a department they call "Research and Development" (R&D). These are the people responsible for innovating new products, improving previous products, fixing design defects, and adapting to new environments, including technological and economic; keeping the organization on the “cutting edge.”

Veterinary practices have an R&D group, also. We just don't recognize them as such.

I'm talking about our staff.  Our staff members know better than anyone what the problems are, where there is opportunity for new services or products, unmet client needs, wastes in our systems, etc.

They hear the comments made by clients that we are never aware of. They understand and recognize the gaps between our current state and our ideal state (True North) or the “cutting edge” of what's possible. And, they are willing and capable of partnering with us to correct those gaps, if we allow and empower them to do so.

When I first graduated from vet school and opened my practice, the business side of practice was coming into its own. One of the major subjects of management seminars at that time was to better delegate and leverage our staff members in our practices. It was like pulling teeth to get veterinarians to stop thinking they were the only ones that could pull blood samples, read a fecal exam or bandage a paw. The role of staff was to greet clients, restrain pets, clean cages and collect money.

These days, thankfully, we have evolved to delegating to staff almost everything in a veterinary practice except diagnosis, prescribing, surgery and... participating in identifying waste, innovating new products and service, meeting unmet client needs; to continuously improve, to become and stay ‘cutting edge.’

The concept of "kaizen" means partnering with staff (leveraging them) to continually improve value for the client, with value being defined from the client's point of view. It is part of the “bottom up” management philosophy of Lean (as opposed to the “top down” or “command and control” philosophy of contemporary Western management).

Vets and the "gurus" think they understand the terms 'teams', 'teamwork' and 'team building', but kaizen takes it to a whole new level. In kaizen, team means TEAM.

Isn't it time to take staff leveraging and delegation to the next level? Isn't it time to recognize and developed our potential "R&D" departments? Isn't it time to start developing a kaizen mindset and culture within our practices?  A culture that respects and recognizes the asset that our staff membrers represent, and, thereby engages them?

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment and, please, tell your friends about our blog.