A common mistake companies make when rolling out a new culture of continuous improvement is to fail to provide leadership training to the people leading it. When you're responsible for leading a cultural transformation, there are a lot of unique leadership skills that you need to employ.
You need to be firm and empathetic, have high but reasonable expectations, communicate effectively, be present - the list goes on and on. It's a hard balance to strike, particularly for people who don't have a lot of experience in a leadership position to fall back on. As such, many leaders cave under the pressure and are either too hesitant to be effective or else become huge jerks that no one likes or respects.
Here are some tips for how to be a strong leader without being a jerk:
Manage During the Good Times, Too
A lot of managers make the mistake of coming out of the woodwork to chastise employees or issue commands. A good boss is present - and actively managing - during the good times as well as the bad. Checking in with employees, providing positive feedback and constructive criticism, and engaging in back-and-forth conversations are all duties that a good boss embraces. By increasing your presence when things are going well, you'll have more influence when things aren't going well, too.
Your improvement culture needs structure in order to function, and providing that to your employees sets them up for success right from the start. This isn't to say that you should be micromanaging their every move, but rather, that you should provide them with a framework for improvement within which they're free to move around as needed. This reduces variability in your results and makes employees more comfortable with making their own decisions.
Appreciate Different Work Styles
Going along with establishing the structure comes the idea of appreciating different work styles. If you've given your employees a structure to stick to and they're effectively working on improvement within that structure, don't micromanage the ways in which they're getting the work done. Yes, ensure that they're following the steps you've outlined (such as PDCA) and achieving the expected results, but leave the nitty gritty details of what they're doing up to the employees.
Monitor and Review Performance
Including improvement in your annual employee reviews is important, but that's not the only thing a great boss does to monitor and review performance. Instead, keep track of what people are doing, how engaged they are in the improvement culture, and the impact they're having.
Continuous improvement software makes this as simple as a few clicks of your mouse - but whatever method you're using is fine, as long as you're able to drill down into the details of any person or department.
Providing regular feedback and encouragement lets people know that you're paying attention, you care, and improvement is worth their investment of time.
Provide People with a Sense of Purpose
Emphasize the impact that each improvement has on the organization and how that impacts your customers.
Be transparent with this information (again, improvement software helps) by measuring the impact of every improvement and broadcasting it throughout the organization.
Remember that this impact data should include soft metrics such as customer and employee satisfaction, safety, and quality. When there's an improvement that impacts your strategic goals, tell people about it!
Transparency in this area keeps everyone focused on a singular purpose.
Recognize and Reward
A good boss takes the time to recognize and reward the people who are doing great work. This recognition should take place on a regular basis, and shouldn't just be financial. For example, check out this list of fun awards you could give out to people who are making a difference in your improvement culture. We have one customer that gives out a "Watermelon Award" to the person who implemented an improvement that was lowest-hanging fruit. We have another customer that gives out an award for the improvement with the smallest impact, to emphasize the idea that the improvement culture is about more than just saving money.
When an employee submits an idea for improvement, they've gone out on a limb to point out something that isn't working well. They're trusting their managers to not assign blame for the problem, and they're also trusting that someone cares enough about the idea to make it worth their time to submit it. Respect that. A good boss responds to EVERY idea for improvement. Even if you think it's a bad idea, it's your job to work with the person to identify what the problem is, and coach them in coming up with a better idea for solving it. Be kind with your followup, and respect the initiative it took for the employee to come forward in the first place.
A good boss provides clear and consistent communication. You're not vague with your "asks," and you're quick with responses. Make it clear who you expect to work on an improvement, who is responsible for the outcome, and when it's due. Be available to answer questions and coach the team. Continuous improvement software sticks all communication about improvement - from the project plan and notes to task assignments and data charts - in one place so that it's easy to find and keep track of, and uses smart notifications to keep the team in the loop. Whatever your method is, make sure it enables you to communicate effectively and efficiently.
That's it for now - what do you have to add to the list? Leave a comment and tell us about it!