Welcome to Lean Leadership for Ops Managers, the podcast for leaders in Ops Management who want to spark improvement, foster engagement, and boost problem solving – AND still get their day job done. Here’s your host, Leadership Trainer, Lean Enthusiast, and Spy Thriller Junkie, Jamie V. Parker.
Hello Ops Managers, welcome to episode 25 of the Lean Leadership for Ops Managers podcast. Can you believe we’re at 25 episodes already? So excited to celebrate this little milestone today. All right, we’re kicking off a series inspired by last week’s episode and interview with Patrick Adams. And if you remember that last week, we kind of talked about how to assess your improvement culture, and homed in on one question in particular, which is, where are your leaders spending their time? Now today, and over the next couple of episodes, I’m going to dive deeper on this question. And we’ll go through how you can structure your plan of attack if the answer doesn’t match your expectation, or what you want, your ideal scenario. Ready? Let’s go.
All right, so you’ve been digging into this question, how do you spend your time? How do the leaders on your team spend their time? And you know that you’re not spending enough of your time how it counts. You want to get more of the right things done, but you’re kind of screaming inside your head a little bit like, “I just don’t have enough time. I’m already working long hours. I’m already behind on my tasks. I already have deliverables that are late.” I feel you, I gotcha. Bear with me on this. This is such a common experience. The question is whether we’re going to accept the status quo, or whether we’re going to do something about it. And if you’re listening to this podcast, then I’m betting you’re ready to do something about it.
Here’s the thing. To get started, you have to make hard choices. And I want to walk you through three possibilities right now. Just know that there are other possibilities you may come up with too. So these three aren’t the three right answers, they are just three possibilities for you to consider. And hey, maybe you’re going to come up with better possibilities too.
All right, so first one up is say no to more. Make the choice to not do something, or to do something later. I know! “But I might get in trouble.” Well, here’s the thing, saying no actually allows us to then say yes to something else. So number one, can you say no to more?
Now, number two, give tasks to someone else. Ask someone else to help out or handle certain things and let go of your need for those things to be perfect. Where can you get help? Who can help you? And that might be folks on your team, it might be your peers, it might be business partners, give tasks to someone else.
And number three, use improvement to create bandwidth. Now, next week, I’m going to talk about how we could use something like a Kata improvement routine for this problem, so stay tuned for that. But for now, I want to keep the scope of number three a little more limited, where I want you kind of using the improvement thinking and the systematic problem solving or the simple improvement tools that you know and love, not for this big overarching challenge, but more for this immediate purpose of finding time, of finding bandwidth, of finding capacity.
So here’s an example. I was working with a client and the production manager was at his wit’s end. Things fell apart when he wasn’t there, and he felt constantly behind, and the CI team was asking him to initiate A3 improvement projects and storyboards in his production operation. And he thought they were crazy. When was he supposed to find time to do that? Now he’s an action taker, he’s not ready to just throw his hands up in the air. So he’s like, “Okay, what can I do here?” And based on a few days of reflecting at the end of the day, he noticed that one of the challenges is that a lot of folks on his team would come to ask for direction on how to handle an issue. And it was a lot, the frequency of this was a lot. He often couldn’t get through a meeting or an assignment without it happening. And when it happened, it had the biggest impact when he then had to do research to be able to provide that direction. So this was causing issues in production, because now that job was on hold, while the team waited for him to do all the things he needed to do to make the decision. And sometimes they would have to wait until he finished something else first.
And so he just started keeping some simple data. I’m talking hash marks on a napkin kind of data. What are the types of issues or decisions that he was taking on, including that extra time like specifically around those that had the extra time? And again, recognizing that, hey, this is something that, you know, his team’s coming for help. He wants to be supportive. And at the same time, what he learned as he looked at it is it wasn’t special stuff that he just had magic stuff to. What he learned is that, “Hey, some of these things, I just haven’t taught my team really to handle it.”
And so here’s the thing. Of course, he knew that he wanted to work cross-functionally to figure out what’s the root cause of the why these issues are happening, and then resolve it at the source and say, “Okay, let’s figure out how we can prevent this from happening to begin with.” The challenge is that he didn’t have that bandwidth. He didn’t have time and the bandwidth because he was in this reaction space. And so through this 30-day effort, what he did is he went in and found, “Okay, here are my two most common issues,” figured out what were the research steps and the thinking process and the criteria he was using to make the decision, and he started teaching people what he was doing instead of just doing it. And for 30 days, he did that. And what that did is it allowed him to redirect 30 or 40 minutes a day on the proactive work. So that basically, what he did is he created the bandwidth, he created the possibility to then do something more proactive.
So it was really this stopgap. I know we really want to get to root causes and we really want to prevent mistakes, and Poka-Yoke and all the things right. The challenge is that when you barely have your head above water, it’s really hard to do that. And so sometimes the first thing we have to do is just be able to get to lift ourselves up so that we know our head is always above water, we’ve got a little bit of that space.
So here are those three things, again, just some possibilities:
- Say no to more
- Give tasks to someone else
- Use improvement to create bandwidth.
Now, sometimes when you try all three of these or other possibilities you come up with, you’re like, “Hey, I’m still stuck. There’s nothing. There’s nothing I can say no to, it’s all important. I can’t give this to someone else. No one else has capacity either. There’s no way for me to create bandwidth in the current condition.” So if that’s the case, I want to share three more possibilities of things you can do. This is when you’re kind of getting to, you know, as we’re talking about that this analogy of treading water, at this point, this is when your head keeps dipping below water. Like you’re dipping below water, coming up and gasping for air. And so if you’re in this place, I would definitely encourage you to think about, “Okay, what can I do today? And how can I engage help, either my leader or my peers?” But let me give you three more things to consider.
The first is to swap your non-negotiables. Now, I talked about this in episode 23, Learning from the Unexpected, where I talked about lessons from podcasting. And I talked about podcasting being a non-negotiable. While I have failed at blogging consistently and emailing consistently and social media consistently, those were things that I was not doing consistently, podcasting for me is a non-negotiable. And so I’m going to make it happen.
Now, let’s be real for a second. There are things that you are already not doing. Your expense report is already late, your emails are in your inbox unanswered, the report that was due, yeah, you haven’t done it yet. And then there are other things that you’re following through with. So maybe we need to get a little bit more purposeful on choosing your non-negotiables for now. I’m not saying this has to be a forever choice, but for a for now choice while you’re creating this bandwidth. Now, this is different from saying no. So instead of saying no to more things, you’re just saying no to different things. You’re being purposeful about what your non-negotiables are, to make sure that if you’re only getting a few things done, they’re the most helpful, most valuable, most aligned things you could do. So it would be really interesting for you to kind of reflect back and think through what are the non-negotiables. What are the things that I am following through on regardless? And what are the things that I should be? What should be my non-negotiables? And are there any of these that I can swap? And I get it, there may be some consequences because when I swap some non-negotiables, some of the things that don’t get done… I get it, I feel you. But we still want to go ahead and consider whether we may want to swap out your non-negotiables.
All right. The second thing I want you to consider if your head is dipping below the water, and you’re coming up gasping for air is I want you to ask to be challenged. Get a peer or someone from your CI team or someone from a different department, walk them through your challenge and where you’re stuck, and have them challenge you. Have them question why you think you can’t say no. Why you think you can’t get someone else to do something you’re currently doing. Why you think you don’t have time for improvement. Get someone else to come in with the purpose of challenging your thinking. Now you got to make sure you pick someone who’s capable of doing that. Someone that has the strength and the courage to stand up to you and challenge you, because you’re going to pitch a little fit here. And you’re going to tell them they’re wrong and you’re going to say, “No, no, no, no, no.” So pick the right person, but ask to be challenged.
And then the third thing, and I want to make sure that I’m clear about what this means, the third thing that you can consider is to work more hours. But I want you to be very clear, we’re talking about temporarily and purposefully. I’m not talking about working more hours the way you’re doing it now in a reactionary stance, where we just spin and spin, hoping at some point, we get ahead. I mean making a very targeted, specific plan, “I’m going to arrive one hour early every day for the next three weeks, and that hour will only be spent on this improvement work so that I can create more capacity for myself.” Maybe you’re just going to say, “You know what? For one week, or for two weeks, I’m going to come in two hours earlier,” or “I’m going to say two hours late,” or “I’m going to work Saturdays for three weeks, three Saturdays only for full 12-hour days, just for three weeks and that’s it.” And you do something where you said, “But I’m not doing this just to start doing more stuff on my to-do list,” right? Because what happens is, usually when we work more hours, we just spin and spin and we try to get more things off our to-do list. That to-do list is never-ending. You’re not going to get it all done.
So instead, I want you to be very specific here, because this level of intensity, you can do it; you can’t do it long term. And so it’s not healthy for this to go on for weeks and weeks and weeks and months and months and months and years. So we want to say, “Okay, I’m going to set this time aside for this period of time. And during that time, I’m not going to work on my to-do list and I’m not going to do all the reports that I’m behind on. Instead, I’m going to use that time specifically to improve processes, or to figure out how I can develop my team to make decisions.” We want to go specific.
So let me say these last three again. So you have:
- Swap your non-negotiables
- Ask to be challenged, or
- Work more hours, both temporarily and purposefully.
Now, when you get to these last three, when you feel like you have to choose one of these last three things, you may want to talk to your leader about it, it depends on your specific situation. But I would just encourage you that if you think you need to go to this point, or if you’re on the fence about it, I encourage you to have the conversation.
Here’s the thing. This is the first episode in a series on kind of this Lean leadership when you don’t have enough time. And right now, we’re talking about, “Hey, I’m treading water. My chin is stretched up trying to keep my mouth above the water and be able to breathe through my nose. And I’m just treading. And I feel like I just don’t have enough time. Or maybe even when my head keeps dipping down into the water, and then I come back up and gasp for air.” When we’re in these places, that’s what we’re talking about today. And so the first three possibilities I shared with you are to say no to more, to give tasks to someone else, and to use improvement to create bandwidth. And if you kind of work through those three, you work through your other possibilities, and you’re still stuck, then here are three more things when things get real, when you’re gasping for air. And that’s to swap your non-negotiables. You’re already not doing some stuff, just switch what it is. Swap your non-negotiables, ask to be challenged, and work more hours, both temporarily and purposely, right, with purpose.
So what’s your next step? Look, I know it’s tough. I know that you know you’re probably not spending enough time on leadership, on serving and developing people. I know that you know that you’re too reactive. I know that you know that how you actually spend your time doesn’t align with what you and your organization say you value, what you say are the priorities. You’re in this point, you identify that there’s a challenge, that there’s a gap, there’s something you want to improve here. The thing is, we can’t just throw our hands in the air and say it is what it is. We’re leaders. We don’t do that. And we’re not going to sit around blaming others. “It’s my boss. It’s the technology. It’s the culture. It’s just unrealistic expectations. It’s sales. They keep doing all these last-minute orders,” right? We’re not going to do that, because we’re leaders. And so we’re going to choose to own our part and take action.
So what’s your next step? Well, here’s the thing. You have to decide based on everything you heard today, what is your best next step. Make that decision, tell someone, and then do it. Until next time.